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Marking Lower-Order Problems

  • Highlight patterns of lower-order errors in grammar, diction, punctuation, and sentence structure. If you see multiple problems, don’t change each one. Mark up just one paragraph or a few lines and explain how the student can rework his or her own prose. Instead of circling every misuse of the comma, for instance, circle it a few times on one page and note in the margin what the problem is. Explain that the student’s comma overuse “disrupts the reading rhythm,” for example. If you see many awkward phrasings, describe what you mean by “awkward” and how the student can smooth out his or her sentences.


Barbara Walvoord illustrates how instructors should make comments that students can use as models for reworking their own prose: rewrite a passage, edit a passage, and mark a passage in some particular way. For each method, ask the student to revise the rest of their writing according to your suggestion:

Rewrite a passage -


Edit a passage -


Mark a passage using different colors or distinctive lines/circles/boxes -


Excerpts from Barbara Walvoord, “Responding to Problems in Style” and “Responding to Problems in Grammar, Punctuation, and Spelling,”Helping Students Write Well: A Guide For Teachers in All Disciplines, 2nd ed., (New York: Modern Language Association of America) 1986.

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