After Students Submit Work

Respond to student writing effectively by using a consistent vocabulary about writing in your feedback.

If you’ve used terms like thesis, stakes, evidence, and structure to teach an assignment, use those same terms to evaluate student writing. That means limiting your comments on the introduction, for instance, to the thesis and the stakes your students are articulating. 

When students see a consistent message connecting assignments, class discussions, and graded work, they are more likely to understand your comments — and why they’ve earned a particular grade. 






What You Can Do

Ask Students to Revise

Asking students to revise means asking them to rework and expand on the drafts they’ve written.


Why incorporate revision?

  • Revision requires students to revisit and reconsider important topics and themes of a course, enabling them not only to master the subject matter more fully but also to engage in the intellectual practices central to your discipline.
  • By asking students to reexamine elements such as thesis, structure, and the use of evidence in their drafts, you can help students improve their ability to convey ideas with clarity and develop more sophisticated lines of argument.


For more information on incorporating revision, click here.

For sample handouts and assignments, click here.

Incorporate Peer Review Exercises

Peer review exercises—in other words, when students read and respond to each other’s writing either in class or outside it—can be a valuable teaching and learning tool at any point in the writing process. Peer review is a concrete way to impress upon students that they need to write with an audience in mind.


Why use peer review exercises?

  • Peer review helps students become critical and objective readers of their own writing.
  • Peer review benefits instructors by providing students with additional feedback without appreciably adding to the workload of instructors. Additionally, when peers echo comments from instructors, their feedback can persuade skeptical students that a draft really does need particular improvements.


For more information on peer review, click here.

For sample handouts and assignments, click here.


Comment & Grade Effectively and Efficiently

The goal of grading is not only to evaluate student work but also to provide feedback to aid the student in future learning and assignments. Being transparent about your expectations sets realizable goals and standards, and communicates how to improve on future work.


Why provide transparency and feedback when grading?

  • Transparency in your grading standards or criteria helps students understand how well their papers are meeting the goals and expectations of the assignment.
  • Detailed comments not only communicate why students received certain grades but also help them understand how they can improve.
  • Transparency and feedback also minimize the amount of time you spend discussing with students after you have handed back the assignment.


For more information on grading, click here.

Provide Clear Written Comments

Your comments on student writing should clearly reflect the hierarchy of your concerns about the paper. Major issues should be treated more prominently and at greater length; minor issues should be treated briefly or not at all. If you comment extensively on grammatical or mechanical issues, you should expect students to infer that such issues are among your main concerns with the paper. It is after all not unreasonable for students to assume that the amount of ink you spill on an issue bears some relationship to the issue’s importance.

It is often more helpful to comment explicitly, substantively, and in detail about two or three important matters than it is to comment superficially about many issues. Many veteran readers find the experience of responding to student writing to be one of constantly deciding not to comment on less important issues. Such restraint allows you to focus your energies on just a few important points and also tends to yield a cleaner and more easily intelligible message for students.

For more information on commenting, click here.


Want Help?

The Harvard Writing Project offers free workshops to all FAS faculty and TFs on proven strategies for responding to student writing.  Contact us.