The Skidmore College
Expository Writing Network

Priorities for Commenting On Student Papers

When assessing either drafts or completed versions of a paper assignment, you will find problems in intellectual content and writing skills of the student text. Your initial impulse may be to address every misinterpretation, every instance of faulty logic, and each grammatical error; however, written comments need not be--nor can they be--exhaustively comprehensive. Instructors need to establish a list of priorities to address in commenting on these working drafts.

Endorsing Roger Garrison's procedures, Thomas A. Carnicelli suggests there is a hierarchy for responding to a student text in his article "The Writing Conference: A One-to-one Conversation." A modified version of Carnicelli's hierarchy follows:

Content: ideas and information
Organization: order + relationship among ideas
Point of View: purpose, persona, audience
Style: diction and syntax
Mechanics: grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
'"Content and point of view" are "'first things,"" explains Carnicelli, "because they seem to me the basic elements of writing itself, which I define as someone (personal communicating something (content) to someone else (audience) for some reason (purpose)."

This hierarchy--or one of your own--should be an instructive guide for commenting on papers.

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