Instructor’s Notebook: How I Approach Paper Reviews -->

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Instructor’s Notebook: How I Approach Paper Reviews

One of the pedagogical approaches we use during Paper Review appointments here in the Writing Center is that Instructors don’t comment on every instance of an issue they identify in a student’s writing.  Students sometimes wonder why that is. In today’s post, I am going to discuss why I don’t comment on every instance of an issue in a paper review and how this relates to the revision process, information overload, and helping students with their own revising and proofreading skills.

An open notebook with ivy covering part of the page.

Revision Process
Writing and writing center pedagogy support the idea of writing as a process. Writing as a process means a piece of writing undergoes a series of drafting and revising events. In terms of academic writing, it means that a strong, well-organized argument from the thesis down to the sentence-level and everything in between is the result of multiple steps of a process.  Therefore, I focus my comments on some, not all, patterns of error in a paper review to encourage the idea that writing is a process and requires multiple drafts.

During the drafting process, as students are still developing their points, there might be several different issues that a student should address as they revise. However, as an Instructor, I consider where a student is at and the most pressing writing concerns they might work on for that particular draft. Since not all concerns are equal within any given writing project, Instructors must rank them and decide which ones take priority for a student. The recommendations I make for revising are all part of this drafting and revising process, a process that is often recursive as a student might revise the same section multiple times as they develop their argument and fine-tune their points.

Regardless of my suggestions during a paper review, one of my overarching goals is to help students understand that revising is a process, which is part of the reason I don’t comment on every pattern of error in a paper review.

Information Overload
Another reason I don’t comment on everything in a Paper Review is because information overload can cloud a student’s comprehension. Information overload can simply be understood to be given too much information to effectively process in a given amount of time. Even if it was possible to process all of the information, the results of the effort would be temporary as opposed to long-lasting. If I commented on every issue I notice in a Paper Review, it would lead to information overload because, even if a student was able to revise based on all of my suggestions, those revisions would likely not be internalized and transferred to other assignments. Thus, a student would likely not have gained any lasting writing skills.

Information overload does not lend well to students developing their own ability to recognize patterns of error and revise their papers on their own. To be clear, information overload does not provide a strong basis for recognizing and revising error since it cuts short the revising process which is essential for developing a strong, well-developed argument. Therefore, I don’t want to dissuade students from engaging with the writing process, which can sometimes happen if there is information overload: yet another reason why I don’t comment on every instance of an issue in a paper.

Revising and Proofreading Skills
To become strong, independent writers, students to be able to internalize feedback so they can transfer writing knowledge from one paper to the next. One method we use to achieve this goal is helping students learn to revise and proofread on their own. The more a student is able to work on their papers before and after a paper review, the more seamless the writing process can become. When students feel more confident in their ability to revise and proofread, they can feel more confident in their ability to tackle those longer documents, such as the capstone project. So, in the end, Writing Instructors want students to develop their own writing skills so that that process of writing is more pleasant and seamless for them, and so they are able to express their arguments in ways they feel confident about. Especially for those final capstone documents and any subsequent academic publication goals they might have.  



Veronica Oliver
 is a Writing Instructor in the Walden Writing Center. In her spare time she writes fiction, binge watches Netflix, and occasionally makes it to a 6am Bikram Yoga class. 


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