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Interpreting Instructor Feedback

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When you're writing for a class, the instructor's feedback on your draft is one of the most important tools you'll need to revise and improve your writing. This page describes some strategies you can use to interpret and use that feedback to the best of your ability.

Rewrite in your own words.

Rewriting something in your own words is a common strategy for increasing reading comprehension; this is why students are encouraged to take notes, for example. Rewriting feedback requires that you read the feedback, understand what it's asking you to do, and rephrase it in a way that makes sense to you. The idea here is that you'll understand your instructor's feedback better, and you'll also be setting yourself up for an easier revision process down the line because you've already put the instructions into terms you can easily understand.
After you've done this, you can take a couple of extra steps:
  1. Answer any questions your teacher left. Instructors will often try to have a conversation with you about your writing in their comments; they may ask questions about what you meant in a particular paragraph or ask for clarification about your ideas. These questions are usually meant to help you develop your ideas and your writing, and answering them directly can help you find areas to improve your work where your teacher didn't leave you an explicit instruction.
  2. Check with your teacher. You can show them your rewritten feedback and ensure that you've hit all the major beats; this also gives you an opportunity to talk with the teacher about your answers to their questions, any comments you didn't understand, or questions you may have about next steps.

Make a checklist.

Once you've gone over all your feedback, making a checklist will help ensure that you actually hit all the key points you need to address in revisions. This will also help you prioritize revisions; sometimes deadlines mean that you can't address every single comment, so it's important to figure out which revisions will help improve your writing the most, as well as which revisions you can make within the allotted time.
As you make your checklist, try to prioritize revision tasks by higher order and lower order concerns. Higher order concerns are issues that affect a large portion of the paper (organization, adding/removing/developing ideas, etc.) while lower order concerns are issues that affect individual sentences or a few sentences, but don't strongly impact the overall meaning of the paper (like grammar or spelling). In general, it's a good idea to focus on higher order concerns first, because if you start by addressing all your lower order concerns, you may end up deleting entire sections that you just worked on when you move on to higher order concerns.

Refer to the rubric.

Rubrics are tools to help teachers grade, but they're also tools for you to understand what teachers are asking you to do and what teachers value most highly. Usually, you can take a look at the point values for different categories and draw conclusions about which types of revisions are most important for improving your writing.
For example, if you see on the rubric that the category "Analysis" is worth 20 points, but the category "Grammar" is worth 5 points, you can guess that your teacher values your skills at analyzing more than your skills at getting your grammar just perfect; that means that any revisions that match up with the items under "Analysis" on the rubric are going to help you improve your work more than revisions that match up with the "Grammar" category.
Doing this kind of analytical work to understand what's expected of you for the assignment can help you while you make your revision checklist (see above).

Look for patterns.

Teachers often do not mark every single error or place where you could benefit from revision. Teachers have many students, and if they gave feedback in that much detail, they'd never have time for anything else! So it's your job as a student to use the feedback your teacher does give you to look for patterns and do some revising on your own.
Here's an example — Say your teacher has marked the first sentence of one of your paragraphs; they tell you that it's a good topic sentence because it describes what's in the paragraph to set up the reader's expectations. They also ask you a question about a particular point toward the end of the paragraph that doesn't seem to match up with the topic sentence. Your first step is to address this paragraph; you either need to move that outlying point to a paragraph where it fits better, revise the topic sentence to include this point more clearly, or add some information to better link the outlying point and your focus in this paragraph.
Your next step after addressing the paragraph your teacher marked is to look at your other paragraphs for the same pattern. You can follow the way your teacher looked at your work, as represented in their comment:
  • Look at the topic sentence. Does it describe what's in the paragraph?
  • Are there points in the paragraph that don't match up with the topic sentence?
  • If yes, what's the appropriate solution (move the point/revise the sentence/better connect the point)?

Looking for patterns in this way has two major benefits. First, the paper you're revising will be better — you'll make more changes than you would have if you only used your teacher's comments, and you'll be using your teacher's feedback to do it. Second, your future papers will benefit from your understanding and internalizing these patterns; you'll learn to look for patterns like the topic sentence one in the example above before you submit your draft to your teacher.