Follow these recommendations for providing useful feedback on peers' writing.

People are often shy about responding to others' writing. Because they are not professional writers or English professors, some people aren't sure of how to provide helpful feedback. This seems particularly true of inexperienced writers, who sometimes equate writing well with grammatically correct writing.

Indeed, many assume that writers primarily need feedback about editorial concerns, such as comments regarding grammar, punctuation, spelling, or diction. And, of course, it's true that writers benefit from having their work copyedited. However, writers also need help at the global level. They need to be told when their work doesn't address the needs or interests of readers, when it's disorganized, underdeveloped, and vague.

How to Respond to Others' Writing

When you are responding to someone's writing, you can rely on your background as a reader. Rather than focusing on grammar and punctuation, you can tell other writers where their prose confuses you, where passages seem pointless, where evidence needs to be provided to support weak arguments, and where examples fail to clarify.Below are some of the most important recommendations for responding to writing that have emerged from composition research.

Seven Tips for Responding to Writing

1. Provide "facilitative" as opposed to "summative" evaluations. Your goal shouldn't be to judge the writer or to conduct character assassination. Instead, try to decipher the writer's intentions and propose, when pertinent, several alternatives to realizing these intentions. Treat the draft as a document in transition, a piece that has the potential to become quite effective with revisions.

2. Avoid "appropriating" colleagues' texts and simplifying colleagues' roles. In other words, your proper role is not to tell your colleague explicitly what to do but rather to serve as a sounding board, enabling the writer to see confusions in the text and encouraging the writer to explore alternatives that he or she may not have considered. Your role is to attract a writer's attention to the relationship between intention and effect, enabling a recognition of discrepancies, but finally leaving decisions about alternative choices to the writer. Try to provide written commentaries that outline alternative ways to improve student writing. Also, avoid asserting that your response is the only response. Understand that responding to writing is a subjective process and other readers may not agree with your response.

3. Play the role of the writer's intended audience. Try to read the document as the writer's intended audience would respond. Consider the intended audience's level of knowledge and interest. Determine whether the purpose is clear, whether the organization could be more effective, or whether additional contextual information needs to be provided.

Effective writing involves more than grammatically correct sentences. What writers say is as important as how they say it, so when we respond as the writer's intended audience, we should respond primarily to the substance and significance of their topics.

4. Encourage colleagues to view revision as an opportunity to clarify and discover one's meaning. We must encourage our colleagues to perceive revision as an inevitable and important aspect of composing, not as punishment for not getting it right the first time.

5. Avoid overburdening colleagues with advice by identifying only one or two patterns of error at a time. Editing every other word can discourage some writers from finding their voices as scholars and researchers.

6. Praise positive attributes in each paper. Like everyone else, colleagues respond to encouragement and positive reinforcement. When papers are smeared with red ink, even the hardiest ego can be slow to recover.

7. Avoid excessive abstract, formulaic textbook language, such as "edit for efficiency!"; "transition?"; "v/agr"; "p/agr", etc.Students are not professional copyeditors, and past research indicates that they don't appear to understand or respond to our abbreviations.