Time-Saving, Student-Centered Feedback

Adopt a student-centered mindset:

  1. Use a less-is-more approach
    • Less correction and marking → more motivated student writers
  2. Take a compassionate stance
  3. Break the “pedagogy of severity” cycle (Edgington, 2020; Macklin, 2021)
    • Don’t repeat what hurt you to a younger generation of writers
  4. Emphasize process over product
    • Help writers build their skills, not perfect a piece of writing
    • You are a teacher, not an editor
  5. Give yourself permission to NOT be thorough
    • Don’t sweat the small stuff, emphasize big-impact writing elements
  6. Look beneath the surface


Focus on student growth and effort by staying positive:

  1. Always make room for the positives.
    • Students need to know what they are doing right as much as what they need to work on.
    • A constant focus on the negative is demoralizing and harmful (Santos, 2018; Macklin, 2016)
  2. Acknowledge the effort and labor made or the difficulty of the task.
    • “The effort you put into your research shows up in the strength of your background section.”
    • “Conclusions are notoriously challenging. You do a good job of restating the thesis statement, but your conclusion needs a more effective take-away.”
  3. Express confidence in student’s ability to improve.
    • “You expressed this well verbally in class the other day, so I know you can make effective claims - try speaking your argument out loud then write it down and formalize it.”
  4. Restate problems as evidence of progress.
    • “You’re struggling with your structure because your ideas are getting more complex.”

More student-centered tips:

  1. Class-wide issues:
    • If many students are making the same mistakes, consider distributing a general feedback document to all your students or put aside class time to note these universal challenges instead of writing the same thing out for each and every student.
    • Take note of the issues and adjust your assignment for future semesters.
  2. Challenging cases:
    • Consider meeting the student instead of struggling with your written feedback.
    • 20-minute meeting + emails < 2 hours agonizing over how to express yourself in writing
  3. Put your feedback letter at the top of the essay where it’s easy to find.
  4. Do not use proofing shorthand or abstract comments.
    • “Incomprehensible ‘haphazard doodles—circles, straight underlines, squiggly underlines, hatch marks—scattered hither and yon in student texts’ are difficult, if not impossible for students to understand. Likewise, confusing shorthand remarks like the infamous ‘AWK’ and proofreading symbols typically used only by professional writers further alienate students who already struggle with the writing process, making it nearly impossible for them to participate in a conversation that they cannot understand or even decipher.” (Macklin, 2016 p.89)

Do not line-edit.

  1. If there is a persistent pattern error, correct the first few instances and explain your correction, highlight one or two more for them to fix, have them find the rest.
  2. Do this for no more than one pattern-error per student, per paper (again, less is more)

Use templates, canned language, or link to other resources:

  1. Have a bank of canned language for common errors and writers’ struggles that you can paste into your feedback, tweak the language to personalize.
  2. For final drafts, send back a highlighted rubric and a short letter tailored to the student’s writing instead of a marked paper.
  3. Send students links to pre-curated lessons like our Writing Resources or Purdue OWL
  4. Be mindful of the trade-off:
    • Students make a lot of the same mistakes and it can be draining to re-explain something for the 10th, 30th, or 50th time.
    • Using links and rubrics in your feedback easily translate grades/writing struggles for students (but, this can feel impersonal to the student, so make sure there is space in your feedback template to respond individually to their work).

The Writing Center’s approach to written feedback:

  1. Read the paper twice (yes, this does save you time)
    • Read first without commenting.
    • Reflect on what the student needs now.
    • Draft your feedback letter
    • Read again and add comments, using your letter as a guide.
    • Make any necessary changes to your letter.
  2. Limit your feedback:
    • Respond to the writer’s questions/concerns
    • 2-3 top priorities for revision and/or future writing
    • Include the positive (be specific)
    • 1-3 margin comments per page, not counting positive comments
  3. Link together your letter and comments
    • “In my margin comments below, I point out where you do this”
    • “As I mentioned in my letter above…”

More tips and resources:

  1.  Feedback & Assessment
  2. Alternatives to Traditional Feedback
  3. Fostering Writing Community and Dialogue in the Writing Intensive Classroom

Further reading/references:

Edgington, A. (2020). Breaking the Cycle: Using Reflective Activities to Transform Teacher Response. Journal of Response to Writing, 6(1). 

Macklin, T. (2016). Compassionate Writing Response: Using Dialogic Feedback to Encourage Student Voice in the First-Year Composition Classroom. Journal of Response to Writing, 2(2).  

Santos, M. C. (2018, August 15). Anti-Racist Writing Assessment. Insignificant Wranglings


Elissa Jacobs and Paige Eggebrecht