· The inverse of commenting too much is commenting too little or so vaguely that students can't
possibly figure out what they need to improve in their work.Writing in the margins phrases like
"Vague" or "Unclear" and then following up with an end comment of a few sentences ("You've
done some good work here but you need more evidence") only describes the problems--and min-
imally so (the student thinks, "Where did I need more evidence? OK, next time I'll just dump in
more quotations."). Use the end comment to model a little for students the kind of writing and
thinking you're asking them to do: substantiate your claims about their paper's strengths and
weaknesses with examples (refer to pages or paragraphs in the student's paper or quote key sen-
tences of theirs).
· On the other hand, if you call your students' attention to every problem in the paper, you might
dishearten and confuse them. If you concentrate on marking up every sentence for errors, includ-
ing grammar and spelling, and awkwardness, students will feel overwhelmed or intimidated. They
could also receive the impression that by merely fixing the sentence-level mistakes they can sub-
stantially revise a paper. By over-commenting, you'll have needlessly spent a long time picking
over a paper that will go through re-conceptualization for the revision. When writers clarify their
ideas and practice writing, many of their tortured expressions will go away.
· Ask questions in comments to engage students in conversation and to avoid tedious prescriptions.
("What might account for X?")
· Invoke "readers" or "the reader" in your comments to impress upon students that their papers
should move from being interior monologues to arguments for an audience. If you phrase your
comments exclusively around your reactions to the papers ("I'm not yet convinced that. . . ."), you
suggest to students that they're writing only to one person, sometimes to please the person who
will assign the grade, and you might implicitly be stressing that your response is more subjective
than a reasoned evaluation of those who know the protocols of the discipline. If, on the other hand,
you phrase all your comments impersonally ("There's not enough evidence here, and it's not clear
what exactly you're trying to prove."),you imply that there are no flesh-and-blood readers who are
mulling over the paper's argument. Try pointing to the presence of readers in more of your com-
ments. ("Your readers need more evidence for this claim" or "How might your readers object to
this claim given X?")
· Resist the urge to write caustic or impersonal comments even though some of your students' work
and attitudes in class might try your patience. The tone you adopt in your comments can make the
difference between keeping your students listening to you and pushing them away.
· For revision end comments, urge the writer to think about writing issues to work on in the future;
incorporate a sense of how the writer has revised the draft.
2.2.6 Strategies for Responding to Student Writing More Efficiently
· Skim through the pile of papers to discern the range of responses to an assignment (rather than
jumping into grading one paper before looking at the rest of the pile).
· Read each essay through quickly, before making any comments, to identify major strengths and
· Determine those strengths and weaknesses according to clear assessment criteria--thesis, struc-
ture, analysis, evidence, etc.
A TF's GUIDE TO TEACHING WRITING FOR PSYCHOLOGY