When I was in college, one of my science professors had very extreme requirements about the organization of the homework we turned in. The problem sets had to be completed on a certain type of graph paper, and all writing had to be in block capital letters written with a particular type/hardness of mechanical pencil. The pieces of paper had to be stapled in the upper left corner. There were restrictions on the amount of visible erasure allowed, and crossed out items were strictly prohibited. Answers had to be surrounded by a rectangle (not a circle). We all thought this professor was a total controlling neat freak and that this might be a sign of derangement.
And then I became a professor and understood how he came to be like that.
Last weekend I spent considerable time grading assignments and exams for two classes. I am requiring e-assignments as much as possible, but some assignments and exams are more practical with a handwritten component. The parts that are submitted as spreadsheets and graphs are mostly fine (though some students create horrendous spreadsheets of unnecessary complexity and with bizarre or no labeling of cells and columns), but the parts that are written by hand and turned in on paper are, in some cases, even more painful and impossible to read.
Some students do not staple the pages and do not write their name on every page. The first thing I have to do when confronted with a pile of homework assignments is to do the stapling for some students or else the pages might get scattered. I am considering requiring a staple (in the upper left corner).
Some students use scrap paper for their assignments; this is environmentally commendable, but it is hard for me to read the real assignment between the lines or in the margins of the non-assignment text. Others tear out pages from a spiral bound notebook, leaving little hanging pieces of paper to get caught in things and scatter around my office and home and cats. I am considering requiring a certain type of graph paper.
Some students use black or red or green permanent marker that runs through the paper and leaves marks on other pages, making everything hard to read. The number of crossed out areas and convoluted arrows and hard-to-find answers is considerable for some students. I am considering requiring neatly printed letter in pencil and prohibiting crossed out answers and hard-to-find answers.
Actually, I'm not really going to do any of those things. The emotional and physical energy required to create and enforce such instructions probably exceeds the emotional and physical energy required to deal with messy homework by students in my small classes this term. Such requirements would make me unhappy and it would make my students unhappy.
Furthermore, we professors expect (hope) that our students will put up with a bit of disorganization in our teaching, so ideally we will all be a bit patient with each other.
But still.. one recent assignment was so difficult to read that I discussed it with the student. I said "You teach labs. You know what it's like to grade a messy assignment. It would have taken you 10 minutes to redo this neatly so that I could read it easily. Why not do that?". The student smiled and shrugged.
My new plan is to attempt to figure out the student's method and answer, but not to try too hard. If I can't figure it out without great time and effort (and guessing), I will take off a lot of points, scribble (semi-legibly) a note saying I can't follow their answer, and let the student come to me and show me what they did.
10 years ago