Ten Tips for Responding to Student Writing

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1) The student should devote more time writing the paper than you do reading it. Substantial revisions by students are much more effective than extensive comments by instructors.

2) Don’t fixate on correcting papers. That’s the writer’s responsibility before submitting it to you. Focus on strategic responses — on the clarity of the idea and the writer’s skill at unfolding that idea in verifiable detail.

3) Start where students are able. Most, if not all, writers can recognize pretentious writing and prose stuffed with jargon. Identifying bloated prose and practicing concision are teachable skills that translate quickly into opportunities for writers, especially inexperienced ones, to recognize how they can succeed immediately.

4) Privilege clarity as early as possible. Recognizing what the writer is trying to say is an act of generosity that will be remembered — and rewarded — in subsequent papers you read. Focus on discovering the writer’s idea. That may require an act of imagination. “Is this what you’re trying to say: . . .?” is a more encouraging way to start a productive conversation with an insecure writer than by, say, scrawling “Explain” in the margin.

5) Write with a reader’s eye, and read with a writer’s attention to detail and conviction.

6) Read for what “works” in a draft. Compliment students for what they do well in their writing. Compliments are instructive and memorable to the extent that they are specific and concrete. Instead of such vague words as “Good!” and “Nice!” consider identifying exactly what the writer did well. For example, “Your metaphor (of the hawk circling) here reinforces your point about writing and helps structure your paragraph.” The principle is simple: success motivates learning. Frequent success marks fluency and creativity.

7) Writing is a skill that develops over time with frequency of practice. Frequent practice increases success. Writing well is like practicing any other skill: playing a musical instrument or a sport. The more someone practices the skill, the greater the likelihood that person will succeed at it.

8) Practice develops confidence. Think of writing as exercises rather than assignments. Shorter, more frequent exercises provide writers multiple opportunities to practice gaining the confidence to tackle larger pieces of writing and increases the likelihood of their achieving repeatable [consistent] success.

9) Think of yourself coaching writers rather than requiring student writers to observe rules and regulations before they have written multiple drafts and developed practiced confidence in expressing their ideas.

10) There are two kinds of writers: 1) those who like to write, and 2) those who want to have written. Having your students work with WriteLab before they submit papers to you to read will save you time, reduce stress, and open your weekends for more personal time.

Drawing on the latest advances in natural language processing and AI, WriteLab creates a space where any writer can practice drafting prose that is ready-to-be-read and will more likely earn the respectful attention and praise of any reader.

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