Tips For Responding to Student Writing

NOTE: Versions of this handout have been used by Prof. Shawna Shapiro (WRPR, LNGT) for in-person workshops as well as one-on-one conversations with faculty. Please feel free to reach out to Shawna directly (, or to any other member of the Writing & Rhetoric Program, if you have questions.

1. Have a focus for your feedback

If the paper will be revised, focus on suggestions for improvement

  1. If this is the final draft in a CW course, focus on overall strengths and areas for growth

i. And/or give feedback on the writing skills/strategies you’re learning as a class —e.g., citing secondary sources

c. If this is a non-CW course, consider what your “minimum threshold” is for accessing the content, and require revision for those that don’t meet that threshold

NOTE: “error free” or “native-like” is quite a high threshold!

2. Go for qualityrather than quantityof comments.
a. Focus on the quality and specificity of your commentsnot the quantity

i. Students are easily overwhelmed: Less is more!

  1. Use margin comments, rather than end comments, for greater uptake of learning

  2. Point out a pattern once or twice, and then ask the student to find other instances.

  1. Make students do the work—that’s how they’ll learn!

    1. Ask students to synthesize their “takeaways” from the feedback (peer and/or faculty feedback)

    2. Have students write a “Writer’s Memo” with the next draft, explaining what they’ve improved

    3. Use some class time to discuss general patterns/suggestions across papers, and then your written feedback can address more individual issues

  2. Consider multiple modes for feedback

a. Electronic feedbacke.g. comment bubblescan be faster than handwriting (if you don’t overdo it!- see point #2)

i. Note “compare drafts” feature in Word, to see changes from earlier versions!

  1. Audio-record feedback?feature in Canvas

  2. Consider giving feedback in person--This can actually save time and energy!

5. REMEMBER: “All writing needs to be read. Not all writing needs to be read by me.
Kathy Skubikowski, professor emerita

*Encourage students to comment on each others work, in-class and outside, and to make use of peer and professional tutoring!

Some Questions to Consider

  1. What are my goals for this assignment, at this phase in the writing process? NOTE: For early drafts: focus the feedback on argument/evidence and organization

    (vs. editing)

  2. How can I set up this assignment so that students can achieve those goals?

    1. Clear expectations and scaffolding (detailed guidelines, rubrics, sample papers, pre- writing activities/assignments, small/large group discussion)

    2. In class activities that help students avoid common “pitfalls” with this assignment.

  3. What format for feedback works best for me? (stylistically, logistically)

    1. Written only

    2. Written plus individual meeting

    3. Individual meeting (in-person or virtual) only

    4. Audio or videorecorded feedback?

    5. Peer tutor meetings/feedback (instead of, or in addition to, instructor feedback)

  4. How can students be a part of the feedback process?

    1. Self-reflection (e.g., Require a “Writer’s Memo” with the next/final draft)

    2. Peer review (with appropriate preparation/guidance)

    3. Analysis of model essays in class

    4. Sharing our own writing with students

  5. How can I show that I care about what they have to say, in addition to how they’re saying it?

    1. Using writing in class

    2. Providing thoughtful comments and questions, with a curious tone

    3. Remembering the power of our words! We can use clear, kind, and constructive

      feedback to strengthen our relationships with students

  6. What is my “minimum threshold” for language/mechanics? What can I let go of?

a. Tip: Focus on CLARITY rather than on error correction!

7. How can I ensure that my feedback is constructive?

  1. Acknowledge effort and intentioneven if there is still a lot of room for improvement.

  2. Be explicit about what’s working well and what they can do better.

  3. Offer suggestionsnot just critiques.

  4. Give students a chance to summarize and react to the feedback they have received.

Writing and Rhetoric Program

Catharine Wright, Director
Chellis House, 201

Tiffany Wilbur, Coordinator
Mahaney Arts Center, 202