Recently, John Gargani shared a list of 5 words that evaluators use that can be misleading in reports. John’s blog inspired us to identify “pet peeves” we have found in evaluation work. Here’s our own list:
The use of the word “problem” in itself can elicit negative responses and put people on the defensive. When people are defensive, it can be difficult to engage in open dialogue and creative problem solving. Instead of using the word “problem,” Stella recommends using creative solutions to frame the issue to facilitate discussion. For example, Stella suggests using the word “challenge,” as in, “Participants identified some challenges in receiving quality health care…”
Joseph highlighted the overuse of questions about a “larger population,” as in, “how do our results compare to the larger population?” In general, evaluation results are obtained from a specific population within a specific context. Even results from “larger populations” are obtained from specific, albeit larger, populations within a specific context (e.g., Minnesotan 3rd through 8th grade students), and not from some generic “larger population.” In order to make valid comparisons, it’s important that evaluators always classify both their population of interest (e.g., South Minneapolis teens, between the ages of 13 and 17, from households with incomes of $25K or less) and the comparison group (e.g., a sample of Minneapolis teens from households with a variety of income levels). As often as possible, evaluators should not use generic “larger populations,” but should be as specific as possible about their comparison groups to enhance the validity and accuracy of their comparisons.
Describing the “Other” Category
Dan pointed out that, when analyzing qualitative data, there might be 5 common themes, but also an “other” theme for comments from a small number of people. When summarizing the results of the qualitative analysis it is important to talk about all of the themes, including describing what “other” indicates. Without describing what “other” indicates, the reader may have no idea as to what the writer is referring and may have to guess what “other” indicates. It is important that evaluators be as clear as possible when writing to ensure that the reader has a clear understanding of the data.
Kirsten’s pet peeve is overuse or abuse of pronouns. Pronoun overuse can detract from the clarity of writing and the overall readability of the document. From a grammatical standpoint, a pronoun always refers to the last used noun; if the last used noun isn’t what the writer intends to refer to, then a pronoun is inappropriate and the writing will not be as clear as the writer intended.
|Unclear Sentence:||Clearer Sentence:|
|“Students enjoyed a number of different activities including afterschool tutoring, mentoring, and field trips and reported it helped their academic performance.”
‘It’ could refer to one of the three different activities or could refer to all three as a group!
|“Students enjoyed a number of different activities including afterschool tutoring, mentoring and field trips and felt the mentoring helped their academic performance.”
Replacing ‘it’ with a specific noun makes the sentence clearer and much more readable.
As a rule of thumb, Kirsten alternates noun-pronoun-noun-pronoun. She acknowledges that her method doesn’t always produce highly engaging prose, but it is clear!
Do you have any writing “pet peeves”? If so, please share in the comments below!