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Giving Feedback on Student Writing

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PWR guarantees students ample opportunity for revising and gathering responses to their work, including drafts. In commenting on written student work, you should provide marginal annotations accompanied by an end comment that synthesizes key points and helps the student continue to develop as a writer.

Consider at length how you will respond to student work, including written, oral, and multimedia projects. How you will collect the student work will in part determine how you will prepare and respond. For instance, do you expect hard copies of all written work or are all submissions and feedback to take an electronic form via Canvas or Stanford Box?  Asking yourself these questions will help you set expectations, clarify processes and prepare any forms you will use for feedback (and evaluation).  For specific guidance and training in commenting on oral/multimedia presentations, contact Doree Allen, Oral Communication Program Director.

Tips for Giving Feedback

Here are a few tips that have worked for instructors in PWR:

  • Examine your own response styles, understand them, and evaluate how successful they are in reaching your students.
  • Ask direct questions; make suggestions for additions, omissions, or clarifications; challenge assumptions; and push for connections that need to be established.  You needn’t comment primarily on surface features unless you notice a pattern of error. 
  • Begin with your assignment and criteria sheets close at hand, and then read through the entire set of drafts very quickly. Doing so will help focus your attention on the set as a whole.  After a break, begin your detailed response.
  • If you ask for paper copies*, you may want to comment in the margins of the draft with a final analysis at the end.  You may instead choose to comment on a separate sheet, computer text, or tape recording, in which case you put numbers in the margins that correspond to the sheet, file, or tape. *Paper copies cost students money to print. If you prefer to have a paper copy, consider having students submit electronically and printing the copies yourself in Sweet Hall.
  • If you accept electronic submissions, you can use the “comment” option available on most word-processing software. Shay Brawn also suggests a technique for using Microsoft Word's compare function to highlight changes between an essay draft and revision. See a video of Shay describing this technique here.
  • Keep in mind that marginal comments often verge on editing, and students take them as such.  If you use marginal comments to push students towards substantive changes, be sure to explain to them how to understand those comments. 
  • End comments force students to look for and fix problems themselves. Some instructors make comments in the margins of only the first one or two pages and then refer to repeated patterns in their final comment as a global problem that the students should attend to in the revision.
  • Give your most serious attention to drafts, providing concrete and specific suggestions for improvement throughout. You might offer responses that record how the essay affects you as a reader (what is interesting, puzzling, and so on) as well as evaluative responses  (for instance, about tone, rhetorical stance, and so on). Conclude by writing a final response that focuses on what needs attention in the draft.

See also additional tips from Stanford Instructors: IWIK - Managing Draft Comments with Conferencing (Canvas Login Required)



Bleakney, Julia, Sohui Lee, and Sarah Pittock.  "Improving Student Writing through Comments."  Teaching Commons, Stanford University.