Sample Feedback (End Comment) on a Research Paper in an Introductory Writing Course

Author: 
Anne Clark, English Department, UW-Madison
Description: 
In this end comment on a student's revised draft of a research paper, notice how effectively the instructor addresses the student-writer personally, acknowledges improvement from the previous draft, reinforces important general principles about effective writing, poses questions to guide further revisions and to deepen thinking, and offers encouragement.  After the sample comment, the instructor explains her approach to commenting.

Jenny,

This paper has really improved, and I appreciate all the work that you have put into it. I think that you're making a really interesting point: the money the schools receive has a direct effect on "children's attitudes towards the world and others around them." I was also impressed by the self-critique in your cover note. You have developed the ability to assess the strengths and weaknesses of your own work—an important part of improving your writing. Good work! Here are some suggestions for revision:

(1) Give your reader an explicit thesis. I thought that "money is the key" was a little vague—it didn't really give your reader a specific point to hang onto. How is money the key? What do you mean by that? By adding a few sentences at the end of your first paragraph which make your argument about education explicit, you could capture the reader's attention and focus it on your point early on. For example, after "money is key," you might say something like, "In this paper I will argue that the education system in America..." or "My purpose in this paper is to suggest that...." (You might want to look at the "E.R." paper for an example of this kind of sentence.) As the handout says, a thesis should be as specific and as direct as possible.

(2) Make readerly transitions. I'm thinking especially of the transition on page four. I know that you already know this is the paper's weakest point. Think about how the Stephen story relates to Anyon's analysis. Is he an example of what Anyon is talking about? In what way? Why is it important to talk about Stephen at this point in the paper? How does his experience complicate/ add to what Anyon has said? I would try to construct a topic sentence (to go before the quote) that expresses the relationship between Anyon and Stephen and relates back to your thesis. We could work on this section together during office hours.

(3) Conclude with strength. I think that you are beginning to make a very explicit call to action—but as it stands, your conclusion fizzles out. Look at some of the examples we talked about in class. How do they handle the "call to action" conclusion?

 

Instructor's Explanation of the Strategies She's Using in Her Comment
In this response, I refer to several previous conversations in order to engage Jenny in this over‑arching, meta‑sequencing conversation I've been describing: I refer to issues she's raised in her note; I refer to an example paper we've looked at together as a class (the "E.R." paper); I use language that occurs on handouts ( "As the handout says", "readerly"); and I use language that arose in a class discussion (a student had described a conclusion he liked as a "call to action" conclusion). Most importantly, the first words of each suggestion are written as "basic" principles, in short phrases with action verbs ("Give your reader an explicit thesis," "Make readerly transitions," "Conclude with strength"). I've found this "principle" approach to be extremely valuable: the principles contribute to the sequencing discussion by giving the students a language to describe what they are working on.