Getting and Giving Feedback, some general guidelines

Helping other students to edit their papers can be a tremendous help to both parties. You will  find that your own writing improves as you notice strengths and weaknesses in your peers’ writing. Here are some steps to help you give more effective feedback.

  1. When you begin the process, look over the requirements for the assignment.
  2. Read the paper quickly once, making notes and marking spots you did not understand. It’s very useful to retain these first impressions before you get into details.
  3. Note if you lose the thread of the paper at any particular points.
  4. Note places where more explanation or clarification is needed.
  5. Then go back and read in more detail, trying to understand what makes certain parts of the paper readable and clear, while other parts may need work.
  6. Go back again to the requirements and give feedback on how the paper meets each of the criteria.

General guidelines for feedback:

  • Be specific both in your praise and your criticism.
  • Be positive.
  • Focus on how the writer can revise the paper to improve it.

Remember how it feels when someone else criticizes your work–you can hear the call for changes much better if you feel the other person values your work and is criticizing it with respect, not brutally. But editorial comments also can be too kind. It does not help the other person if you don’t give any suggestions or if you just say, “Great!” One of the skills to learn is to trust your instincts; when you don’t understand something, ask for clarification!

There are several levels to consider when editing a paper:

  1. the overall flow and structure,
  2. the specific content and its clarity,
  3. how well it meets the objectives, and
  4. technical issues, including
    • grammar and punctuation,
    • sentence structure,
    • technical terms, and
    • references.

Structural Issues:

  1. Does the paper have an identifiable thesis statement? What is the thesis?
  2. How does the introductory paragraph set the paper up?  Does it clearly convey what the paper is about? Or is it cluttered and unfocused?  What was clear?  What was less so?
  3. Is the thesis supported by examples and quotations?  Are these adequate? Are they relevant to the ideas or do they seem unrelated to the ideas in the paper?
  4. Does each paragraph have a coherent structure and a central idea? Does the first sentence of each paragraph convey what the paragraph is about?  Is some organizational adjustment necessary?
  5. What are the strengths of the paper? How can these be highlighted?
  6. Has the paper been spell checked? What about grammar?

If the overall structure is clear, say so. If there are a few places where you could not follow the argument, point them out but remember to point out other places that were clear. Even if the overall structure is not clear to you, try asking specific questions such as, “What is the major point of this paragraph?” rather than issuing a blanket condemnation like, “This is totally disorganized.”

Again with the specific content issues, pick out sentences and paragraphs to commend, if possible. In your criticisms, ask for explanation and clarification. For example, “I didn’t understand what you meant about the function of the rhyme scheme here.” “What is the relationship of this sentence to the one before?”

Achieving the Assignment’s Goals:

How well does the writing meet the objectives of the assignment? Is it at the appropriate level of formality? Does it include the right amount of detail?


Copy-editing issues can be tricky; if you do not feel confident about grammar, spelling, punctuation and sentence structure, you may want to word your comments as questions, like, “Spelling correct?” “Should this be a comma or a semicolon?” Be especially alert to literary terms and whether they are used correctly. Are there reference where appropriate, and are they using the correct form both in the text and the bibliography or “references cited?”

1 comment for “Getting and Giving Feedback, some general guidelines

  1. Vanessa Quezada
    October 7, 2009 at 10:46 pm

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