Individual feedback (from peers and/or the professor) is a prereq for revision.

Feedback is different from grading. You are responding as an informed reader making sense of a work-in-progress rather than as a judge assessing a final product.

You can often head off poor thinking by commenting early and briefly on informal (exploratory) writing.

Nix “nice” or “?” Be specific.

I don’t understand what you mean by “postmodern abstractionism.” Please explain—perhaps in simpler terms for the museum goers reading this catalog.

Is “negative ramifications” in the right place? You just mentioned a positive effect.

An example of ecoterrorism here would bolster your point.

Give comments appropriate to the writer’s place in the process.

Although writing is recursive (we circle back again and again rather than march in a straight line to a finished product), a paper generally moves through roughly chronological stages.

Early (big picture): understanding assignment, ideas, thesis, supporting details/evidence, choice of sources

Middle (organization): structure, logic of argument, use of sources, sequence of paragraphs, order of sentences, transitions

Late (polish): style, sentence variety, grammar, word choice, spelling, proofreading

During revision, sentence-level problems often resolve themselves as writers clarify their thinking. Don’t get bogged down correcting apostrophes when a writer may end up scrapping those sentences anyway.

Less is often more: prioritize.

Too many comments can overwhelm a writer. Pick a few areas for improvement.

Point out what’s working as well. Reinforce strengths.

Start a dialogue.

One way is to ask students to submit a letter with each draft discussing its strengths and weaknesses. Another is to write your feedback as a letter or e-mail and ask the student to respond.

Tip: Save time by reading selectively and sometimes commenting collectively. Trust that students learn by doing as well as by hearing from you.

Note a few patterns of errors and direct writers to a reference.

The handbook for EN 101/102, for instance, is Silverman, Hughes, and Wienbroer’s Rules of Thumb, which has sections on MLA and APA documentation.

Emphasize that multiple grammar errors interfere with meaning. Like too many flies on the windshield, they make it hard to see the road.

Tip: If writers, especially international students, need more help with grammar, you might try working on a pattern of error in a conference:

1) Identify the pattern of error, such as a run-on sentence.
2) Point out the rhetorical choices involved in the correction—semicolon for connected ideas, periods for more distinction, commas with conjunctions for shades of meaning.
3) Have the writer practice in stages. You point out the next run-on. Can s/he fix this? Once yes, move on. Can s/he find similar errors? Although the long-term goal is avoiding errors, the short-term goal is independent self-correction.

Discuss proofreading techniques.

These all sharpen awareness of surface errors:

  • taking a break between writing and proofing
  • reading a paper aloud (or listening to a friend read it)
  • changing or enlarging the font
  • looking at sentences in reverse order in a paragraph
  • making a list of personal bugaboos
  • understanding the limitations of spell-check


comment about teachers' comments (Fresno State University)

YouTube video on what kinds of comments students find helpful (Fresno State University)

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