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Prioritize Your Comments

Although undergraduate writing frequently exhibits problems in grammar, syntax, word choice, and punctuation, your job is to respond to the substance of that writing rather than to mark all the mistakes. In other words, don’t over mark! Avoid editing prose before your students have dealt with conceptual and structural features of their writing, especially if students are revising their work. Also, they won’t learn anything when you rewrite their work for them.

Prioritize your comments in terms of higher-order and lower-orderl concerns:

Higher-order concerns deal with how well student writers:

  • address the prompt
  • argue a main point
  • develop and support ideas
  • comprehend the material
  • structure writing logically

Lower-order concerns
 deal with how well student writers
  • select suitable words
  • control sentence structure
  • demonstrate proper grammar and punctuation
  • use appropriate style and tone


Emphasize global concerns in your teaching and commenting, and address local issues as needed. While of course a student’s expression must be sufficiently clear to communicate its ideas, don’t get too wrapped up in grammatical gaffes or wrong words. Your responsibility is to point out patterns of error and awkwardness in sentence-level matters, not to “fix” all the problems in a given piece of writing.


You may be dying to mark every line of the following introductory paragraph from an undergraduate paper entitled, “Puritanism: Who To Believe.” However, this student’s writing will benefit most from feedback about its higher-order problems. Why? What are those problems?


You can provide feedback on your students’ writing in several ways. Bearing in mind that your faculty instructor may have a preference, consider these three methods to respond to your students’ work.

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