Corruption or HTML Characters in the Writing Center Essay


Students and instructors discover unexpected corruption or HTML characters invading the student essay in the writing center. They may also notice that the workflow is broken: 


Our system does not accept formatting (such as bold, underline, colors, lists, etc). When students type into the course directly, these options are not available and the essay is saved as plain text. But some students write their essay in MS Word, which formats its content with coded markup. The code is invisible to the student, but it lurks in the background when the content is pasted. It looks fine at first, but after submitting, all that background code gets incorporated into the database and corrupts the student's work. We've added a great deal of programming to strip out that cruft code, but it is impossible to catch everything because of the vast number of formatting variables in Word.


If students prefer to write in an external editor and paste into the Writing Center, they should use a plain text editor that does not use any formatting (such as Windows Notepad or Mac TextEdit).

If they want/need to format the essay in a word processor (some schools require this formatted version in addition to the Writing Center version) it must be pasted as plain text when pasting into the course. 

This can be done one of two ways:

  • by pasting into a plain text editor first, then copying THAT text and pasting it into the course
  • by using the right-click context menu in the browser to "paste as plain text" or "paste without formatting". (Select and copy the text in the word processor, then right-click in the course where you want to paste, then select paste as "plain text" or "without formatting" depending on your browser.)

We highly recommend working on the final draft within the course editor, rather than pasting from any external editor. Once instructor comments are made, they create hidden "anchor points" in the document. Those anchor points are erased or corrupted when the student copies and pastes from an external source, so it it is safest to stay in our editor. 

One additional caveat: If students do a great deal of cutting and pasting within their own document--even if they are working in the Writing Center's own editor--they may also corrupt the comments in the final draft. If you see minor breaks in how the comments are associated with the text, it is usually not a problem. But if you see major issues such as missing content or odd behaviors in the interface, there is a good chance that some corruption has occurred.

Getting Help

If you need assistance with a corrupted student writing assignment, please contact our support team. We can often restore the document from the database, although comments and anchors may be lost.


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