Academics at Leeds Trinity were sent advised to “write in a helpful, warm tone, avoiding officious language and negative instructions”.
According to a staff memo aimed at “enhancing student understanding, engagement and achievement”, capitalising a word could emphasise “the difficulty or high-stakes nature of the task”.
The memo says: “Despite our best attempts to explain assessment tasks, any lack of clarity can generate anxiety and even discourage students from attempting the assessment at all. Generally, avoid using capital letters for emphasis and “the overuse of ‘do’, and, especially, ‘don’t’.”
Professor Margaret House, Leeds Trinity’s vice-Chancellor, said that the university follows national best practice teaching guidelines.
“The memo is guidance from a course leader to academic staff, sharing best practice from the latest teaching research to inform their teaching,” she said.
“For every assignment, academic staff have an ‘unpacking’ session with students so the students are clear on what is expected.
“The majority of universities do this. It is also about good communication and consistent style. For example, it is best practice not to write in all capital letters regardless of the sector.”
The Leeds Trinity staff memo also says that staff must be “explicit about any inexplicitness” in their assignment briefs.
It explains that when students are unsure of an assessment, they often discuss it among themselves, which can lead to “misconceptions or misunderstandings” spreading throughout the class. This is “usually aided and abetted by Facebook”, the memo adds.
“This can lead to further confusion and students may even then decide that the assessment is too difficult and not attempt it,” it says.
Earlier this year, one of the country’s leading girls’ schools banned teachers from writing negative comments on pupils’ end-of-year exams.
Putney High School in south-west London had already stopped grading pieces of work for pupils aged 11 to 14 in order to stop girls getting overly “fixated” on their mark.
The £19,000-a-year school then took things one step further by axing comments in favour of symbols, allowing girls to work out themselves where they have gone wrong.
When marking the Year Nine girls’ end-of-year exams, teachers were banned from making any comments “other than a brief line of genuine praise”.
Snowflakes and sloppy sub-editing seem to to be the order of the day …