Political Science/JSIS/LSJ Writing Center
Tools for TAs and Instructors
Responding to Student Writing
Tools for Instruction o Writing Center
Myth 1: Conscientious teaching requires marking all grammar and
Students can catch up to 60% of their own errors if they are taught to
proofread. Try instead to:
Myth 2: Requiring two drafts of a paper doubles your work.
- Mark errors on the first paragraph or page only (and let the student
- Place checks in the margins where errors occur (provide a key to the
- Look over a set of papers quickly and return error-laden essays for
proofreading and correction.
- Create peer editing groups in your class
Students usually pay attention to comments only when they are given a
chance to revise. It makes more sense for you to invest your time and
energy responding to the first draft and to make these comments truly
facilitative. Respond to the final draft only briefly, and let these be
Myth 3: More is better in terms of how much you respond to the
problems in the paper
Students are often overwhelmed and paralyzed when they receive essays on
which the instructor's comments trail into every margin and leave a
depressing map of error and negative response. Even when response is
positive, saying too much is often confusing. The quality of your
comments is much more important than the quantity.
- Choose two or three elements of the essay to focus on, giving highly
specific constructive commentary, rather than trying to cover all possible
areas of concern.
- Comment on strengths as well as weaknesses.
- Make the majority of your comments at the end of the paper rather
than in the margins (students pay more attention to these).
- Suggest how the student can do better next time, rather than merely
identify what they have done well or poorly on this
| Weak Comment
| You raise important issues but your organization is weak. I never
knew what to expect next. The paper was lacking enough support. Where is
the development of the ideas?
|| You raise 3 important points on your second page, but they get lost
in the remainder of the paper. On your next draft, focus on just those 3
and support them with evidence and/or logical argument gained from the
course material or outside sources.
| I had trouble following your argument. It is not coherent. There are
not any transitions between your ideas. I did'nt know what your point was
until I read the last paragraph.
|| I was a little lost until I read your last paragraph. It is a good
summary of your argument and it needs to be moved to the beginning of your
paper. Use it as a neat outline of what will happen next, and then make
sure the rest of the paper supports your thesis.
| There is no thesis statement here. You are merely summarizing the
ideas of the two theorists, rather than providing us with anything new.
Where are you in all this?
|| Most political science papers require you to make an argument, rather
than just summarize the course material. You demonstrate a good
understanding of Hobbes and Locke, but you need to make a claim that
responds to the assignment question. Be bold and direct about your thesis
-- don't be afraid to take a stand!
Of course, the nature of your comments will vary depending on what you
want the students to do with them.
- If the students will be revising their writing, respond with
questions and suggestions that will prompt revision. Margin comments are
useful on first drafts.
- If you are commenting on the final
version of a writing assignment, consider responding with remarks that
allow students to see strengths and weaknesses for future application. If
you include a lot of questions on the final draft, students are likely to
get frustrated because they cannot respond to the questions.
* Thanks to the Writing Centers at Virginia Tech and the University of
Hawaii for furnishing some of the ideas for this handout.
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