Commenting on Content and Organization

International students arrive in the US having learned and practiced academic writing in their own countries and cultures. However, what they have learned may not be standard in a US academic writing environment because of differences in structure, content, style, audience expectations, and citation practices (SEE: Considering Culture). Teaching students about expectations for writing in a given discipline needs to  be done explicitly and with clear examples of what is desired. This can be achieved through in-class activities, resources, and especially feedback given on written assignments.

So, what should instructors comment on, and how should they do so?

Feedback is most effective when it is highly specific and at the actual point of occurrence rather than as general end comments. Commenting on a first draft is also more likely to be acted upon than a final draft, in which case students could only be expected to apply feedback to their next written assignment.

Priority should be given to structural/organizational elements that are missing or impede meaning. Instructors can make direct, specific comments by asking themselves questions as they read such as: Is there a clear thesis? A logical progression of argument? Evidence? Is it discussed and analyzed? Is source information cited correctly?  

Content elements that are unclear due to sentence structure or vocabulary, or due to poor quality or choice need feedback, such as inappropriate evidence (or sources) being used and discussion or analysis of that evidence being inadequate, or lack of clarity between what sources say and what the student writer says due to poor paraphrase, quotation, attribution, and/or citation.

For examples of the kinds of comments that are helpful to students, see: Sample Comment Bank