How can I most effectively address issues of clarity, language and/or mechanics?

I have a student whose writing has significant issues with clarity, language, and/or mechanics. What should I do?

The best way to support writers with grammar/language concerns is to develop a support model that includes yourself, your peer tutor/mentor (if applicable), and other resources.

  • The first step is to talk with the student(s) to learn more about what challenges were faced on the assignment. Did they understand the assignment (and/or the course readings it references)?  Did they know what they wanted to say?  Did they allocate enough time for completing and reviewing the assignment?

  • Keep in mind that in many cases, unclear writing results from confusion about content—not just grammar. In addition, rhetorical strategies differ by language, so what appears “off-topic” or “irrelevant” in one context may not be seen as such in another. Citation and use of sources differ by context as well.

  • Once you and the student have considered the various factors which might have impacted the writing process for this assignment, develop a plan for how this assignment might be revised (if possible), and/or how the student might produce clearer work for the next assignment. You may wish to encourage students to make an appointment with one of the CTLR professionals. In addition, all peer mentors/tutors receive training in supporting multilingual/ESL writers, as well as in how to help students with grammar (while still avoiding becoming the de facto editors for student work). Together, we are the authorized aid for student writers.

  • Consider giving a separate grade for grammar/style/language use within your evaluation rubric. This allows you to acknowledge strengths in content/argument/organization while still recognizing that some students need to continue to work on the clarity of their writing.


If you have requests or additions for this page, please contact Shawna Shapiro, our multilingual specialist ( and/or Hector Vila, who also has significant experience with ESL (

Writing and Rhetoric Program

Catharine Wright, Director
Chellis House, 201

Tiffany Wilbur, Coordinator
Mahaney Arts Center, 202