Students’ writing improves dramatically when they revise in response to feedback from their instructor. In Writing Flag courses (all UGS 302s and some 303s), students must revise at least one major project in response to feedback from the instructor or TA. Students in all Signature Courses should have a chance to revisit at least one written project after receiving feedback. Here are some ways to simplify the process.
Don’t comment on every problem or error: this overwhelms the student. Instead, pick two or three major issues to address, and give the student direct suggestions on what to do next to improve the draft. Professor John Bean suggests a hierarchy:
- Does the draft follow the basic requirements of the assignment?
- Does the thesis have substance? Freshmen especially are used to writing “all about” reports that summarize instead of analyzing.
- What is the quality of the argument? Is it logical?
- Does the large-scale organization make sense? Are there important questions left unaddressed, or do parts of the draft seem off-topic?
- Are the paragraphs unified and coherent?
- What patterns of error exist on the local level—word choice, grammar problems, inappropriate tone, etc.?
Make Expectations Clear
Always include specific grading criteria when you assign writing. Discuss the criteria before students begin the assignment, and refer back to these discussions when you need to point students in the right direction.
Sample grading criteria and rubrics.
Style guidelines can also establish your expectations for student writing.
Sample style guidelines for a Signature Course.
- William Strunk’s original The Elements of Style (later revised by E.B. White)
- Texas A&M’s Writing Center offers twelve guidelines for grammar, punctuation, style, and usage
- The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s editing checklist covers most of the same common errors as the TAMU guide, but organized a little differently
- George Orwell’s six questions and six rules for writers
Minimize Error Marking
Do not edit or correct student error. Do address it in your grading criteria. “Minimal marking” (as described by Richard Haswell) will help students take responsibility for finding and correcting their own errors—something research has shown they are better at than you might suspect. Dr. Peg Syverson, Director of the Undergraduate Writing Center, has an excellent description of her minimal marking process.
Discuss In Person
Face-to-face meetings to discuss drafts are more efficient than written feedback: you can tell right away if the student understands your comments.
Consolidate Your Efforts
If you find that many students make the same type of error, spend five minutes in class (or with a small group) discussing how to correct the problem.
The UGS Writing Office offers a writing feedback consultation program for faculty. Instructors can submit copies of marked student drafts (up to 25) to the Writing Coordinator, George Schorn, who will read them, then meet one-on-one with the instructor (or instructor and TAs) to discuss.