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For an academic paper, I wrote (referring to the makeup of part-time faculty)

"Level of teaching experience is mixed."

I was marked for a grammatical error, with the professor noting it should be "The level of teaching experienced is mixed."

I really wasn't going for a definite article, but perhaps I'm wrong. Thoughts on this?

  • Well, you used "the" before "professor" for the same reason you should have used it before Level - nothing to do with starting a sentence though. You should also use it in a sentence like "I think that among my part-time faculty, the level of teaching experience is mixed.". – James Oct 24 '15 at 18:30
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    "The level of teaching experienced is mixed" makes little sense. Is there a typo? – Mari-Lou A Oct 24 '15 at 18:46
  • 'The' may be omitted from the sentence (as you show); this is what is known as 'conversational deletion'. However, this is inappropriate in a formal register. Since grammatical acceptability is not universally constant, your prof is at liberty to label it 'ungrammatical' (and it is best to keep academic papers in a formal register). // M-L A makes an important point. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 24 '15 at 18:58
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Your professor is right, but I think you are not completely wrong. Let's drop level of and see what happens:

Teaching experience is mixed.
The teaching experience is mixed.

The first sentence expresses that everyone has had a different amount of experience teaching in the past. The second sentence expresses that the experience of teaching right now has a different quality for everyone. These are two quite different ideas, and I bet you wanted to express the first one.

I guess that you added level of either because you have seen the phrase level of teaching experience recently, or because you wanted to make it extra clear that you intended the first meaning. Level in this context probably should not be understood literally. Why probably? If someone has classified teaching experience into a number of discrete levels and you wanted to express that according to this classification not everyone is on the same level, then it should be understood literally and you should really have used the plural:

The levels of teaching experience are mixed.

Since you used the singular, I assume that most likely there is no such classification in the background, or even if there is, that you didn't want to allude to it specifically. In other words, you just used level of to reinforce the fact that you wanted to refer to experience level acquired previously as opposed to (fun or stressful) experiences in the time the paper was about. If you think of level of in this way as a modifier similar to an adjective, then the absence of the definite article should be inherited:

Teaching experience is mixed.
Relevant prior teaching experience is mixed.
?Level of teaching experience is mixed.

I have marked your sentence as questionable because you are probably a bit ahead of our times with this interpretation. But I would certainly consider it defensible for good and efficient prose.

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    Here's what I've found in researching this: In this case, I was using “Level” to refer to an abstract measure, which renders it as a mass noun or uncountable noun, which does not necessarily need a determiner or definite article. Taking another example, “Information is available” is acceptable, because information is an uncountable noun. In the case of “The information is available” “the” is a definite article, referring to specific information. So had I been referring to a specific level, I would have needed the article “the.” – Jenna Oct 24 '15 at 22:30
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Your professor is correct. There has to be a definite article in there!

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In academic writing, broad generalizations should be avoided.

Since you did not specify what "level of teaching experience" is your subject, the subject of your sentence is any and all levels of teaching.

If you don't include the article, you should specify another. For example: "Level of teaching experience in high schools..."

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