Doyle Online Writing Lab
Commenting on Papers
Everyone has their own style for commenting on papers. The purpose of this page is to provide suggestions on how to give more effective comments on the writing in papers. It does not address content.
- Do not proofread the paper. In general students do not learn grammar by seeing it marked on a paper. Identify an instance of a repeated error and show how to fix it. If possible ask the student to find other instances of the error and to correct those himself. This can be done during a paper conference.
- Prioritize your comments. If a paper (or thesis chapter) is littered with red ink, the student will have a hard time identifying what errors impede your comprehension the most. If a student is writing multiple papers for your class, you may want to focus on structural problems and problems with evidence in the first couple of papers and ignore the grammatical and stylistic problems until later papers.
- Begin with a positive comment. While certainly some of your criticism should be constructive, make sure you reward the student for at least one thing they did well or better than last time. This should be a true attribute, rather than something such as "I like your font."
- Allow students to revise. Students learn to correct errors by eliminating them in the current paper. Once they have started a new paper, they may be focusing on content and not have time to "worry" about structure and errors.