Apply Yourself: Using Writing Center Feedback to Develop Your Writing Skills
If you have ever had a paper review appointment with the Writing Center, odds are your writing instructor has included a comment like this: Please apply my feedback throughout your draft, not only to the pages I reviewed today. This language is reflected on our website as well: "Once you make an appointment and attach your paper, the (para. 1). We even go so far as to ask students to apply feedback from one paper to another:
Students are expected to apply feedback between appointments and drafts, regardless of whether they are submitting a revision or a new paper for review. If you have used our paper review services before, each paper you attach should reflect the advice you received in your previous review(s). This helps ensure that you are developing your writing skills and taking ownership of the revision process. If you are not applying feedback from one review to the next, no matter what we have reviewed (i.e., different papers or the same section of a paper), we reserve the right to mark your appointment as missed and return the paper without a review. (“Using Feedback and Making Revisions,” para. 1)
Clearly, we feel strongly about this policy – but what exactly do we mean by applying feedback? Why is it so important? And how can you, as Walden students, ensure that you are doing it?
Our emphasis on applying feedback stems from our mission as a center. Our goal is not to help students improve individual assignments, but rather to help students develop writing skills. In other words, we do not proofread or “fix” papers (hear Brittany and Nik debunk this and other writing center myths in our latest WriteCast episode); instead, we offer instruction to help you become a more confident writer and self-editor, no matter what assignment you are working on.
When we ask you to apply our feedback, then, we are basically asking you to demonstrate that you are learning from our instruction. Because we focus on skill development, it is important that we see students practice those skills from one paper—or section of a paper—to another.
Skillful application of feedback helps you to make the most of your Writing Center appointments and grow as a writer. But how do you do it? Here are a few practical strategies:
- Critically read your writing instructor’s comments. In other words, don’t just revise your individual assignment and call it a day. Instead, take the time to analyze the feedback and your own writing: Do you understand every comment? (If not, be sure to ask!) Do you recognize the issue that prompted the comment? Do you see any other places in your paper—whether or not your writing instructor commented on them—where this issue crops up again?
- Revise your paper issue by issue. For example, if your writing instructor comments on topic sentences, review the paragraphs throughout your entire paper to identify all the places where you should add or revise topic sentences. This approach is a bit time consuming, but it is one of the best ways to understand your writing patterns and practice a particular skill.
- Document your common errors and concerns. Some students keep journals of common grammar mistakes, while others use post-it notes with reminders like “Don’t forget a thesis statement!” Whatever your strategy, having some sort of concrete acknowledgment of your most pressing writing concerns will help you to recognize and work on those issues in future assignments. If you need help identifying these top areas of concern, ask your faculty member or writing instructor for help.
- When scheduling a new paper review appointment, leave a note for your writing instructor identifying your writing concerns. Are you working on paragraph cohesion? Clear introductions? Passive voice? Verb tenses? Be as specific as possible so that your writing instructor can focus his or her feedback to best help you meet your goals.
We understand how challenging writing can be, and we do not expect students to master a writing skill after an appointment or two. We do, however, ask students to strive to become reflective and self-aware writers, to recognize their writing patterns and develop their skills from one assignment to the next. Give these tips a try to take ownership of your writing and develop skills to carry with you throughout your Walden program and beyond.
Kayla Skarbakka is a writing instructor and coordinator of international writing instruction and support at the Walden Writing Center. She recently moved to the Seattle area, where she has a lot to learn about seafood, composting, volcanoes, and surviving gloomy weather.
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