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Don't Comment Like This!

Although probably you spend a lot of time commenting on student writing, it’s likely that you haven’t had much discussion on how to do it helpfully and efficiently. In her article “Responding to Student Writing,” Nancy Sommers features this student paragraph to illustrate common problems with how instructors often mark undergraduate writing:


Excerpt from Nancy Sommers, “Responding to Student Writing,”College Composition and Communication 33.2 (May 1982): 148-56

What strikes you immediately as problematic?

You may think the comments have a generic feel when the instructor writes “Be specific” and “awkward.” Or you may feel the instructor is sending contradictory messages because the margin notes suggests expansion—“you need to do more research”—while those between the lines suggest the prose is fixed by making comments about word choice and the like. Or you may view the comments as not very carefully composed. The instructor has written “what reasons?” just before the student provides two explanations for the “Many reasons” the Super Bowl is popular.

To avoid marking like this, let’s consider a couple of general strategies for responding constructively (and economically) to student work.


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