Political Science/JSIS/LSJ Writing Center
Tools for TAs and Instructors

Responding to Student Writing

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Some Myths...

Myth 1: Conscientious teaching requires marking all grammar and language errors.
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.
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 evaluative.

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. Examples:
Weak Comment Better
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.


* 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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