Demystifying the Links Between Feedback and Revision: Ideas for Teachers of Writing Enriched Courses

11 Nov

by Tim Gustafson and Jules Thompson
Center for Writing, University of Minnesota

The word "revise" spelled out in wooden block letters.Students don’t always make use – good use or any use – of peer feedback or teacher comments on papers.  Too many comments can overwhelm students, revision timelines may be tight amidst other courses, and students may not recognize what substantive revision looks like.  Or comments may come back after students have submitted a final version of the paper assignment.  In such contexts, faculty can certainly question the value of commenting. 

This post offers several suggestions for helping students learn ways to read comments and build revisions from readers’ comments.  As practiced writers we have somehow learned revisions practices.  As teachers, we can pull back the curtain to demystify the revision process for less experienced writers.   This involves us in finding ways to respond strategically, and to structure assignments that structure revision and reflection into the writing (and grading) process.

Show students examples of substantive revision vs. proofreading

Project or hand out a de-identified student excerpt from a previous class or different section: a paragraph from a preliminary draft followed by the same paragraph with a few typos corrected, and then a substantively revised version of the original.  Ask students to describe the kinds of changes made in the revision, and what those revisions accomplished.

Respond to a preliminary draft that will be resubmitted

Comments on graded drafts often go unread or are interpreted as mere justification for the grade.  Students are more likely to make use of comments on a preliminary draft.  Respond quickly enough to give students time to revise.  A key to revision is time management—for both writers and responders.

Respond like a reader in conversation

Rather than ‘Your argument is confusing,” write “The argument confuses me here—can you sort out and develop a hierarchy of contributory causes?”  One or two specific, revision-oriented comments can be more useful than extensive copyediting or numerous broad, generic comments. Note how the comment also focuses on the writing rather than the writer. 

Focus your response on one or two global issues

Don’t respond to everything.  Pick one or two “big picture” issues for the student to work on: perhaps the focus needs to be sharpened.  Perhaps the analysis needs more depth.  Perhaps the organization is confusing.  In addition tell students explicitly why you make the sorts of comments you do, and what you expect them to do with those comments. 

Point out genuine strengths

Students need to know when and what they are doing well, and how they can extend those successes.  For instance: “This source analysis begins to do the kind of critical work we’ve discussed.  Can you extend it, and do likewise with other sources you use?”

Don’t copyedit

Save sentence-level response to errors and stylistic matters for a later draft, so students don’t feel that they only need to clean errors when they really need to rethink their project.  When you do mark sentence level issues, focus on one or two patterns of error that most interfere with meaning; note the first couple of instances, and tell the students that they are responsible for finding and correcting other instances throughout the paper.

Require a Revision Memo

With drafts have been revised based on feedback (from peers, teachers, self-assessment) require students to submit a Revision Memo, which explains their revision choices in light of feedback responses. By asking students to write a revision memo, we help close the feedback loop and reinforce students’ self-assessment abilities (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006). 

Context, purpose, and audience
This assignment provides students with an opportunity to respond effectively to peer and instructor feedback, to hone self-evaluation and analysis skills, and to demonstrate ability to adapt writing strategies and practices (Burdine & Fulton, 2008). The instructor is the primary audience.

Format and assessment criteria

    • Organize the document in standard memo format of approximately one full , single-spaced page with 12 point font and 1 inch margins; and not more than two pages.
    • The substance of the memo should accomplish the following (Flash, 2012):The memo is worth a portion of the final paper’s grade. The memo will be assessed for clarity, concision, and completeness. The instructor will use the revision memo to either provide additional feedback (if this is a penultimate draft), or as a factor in the paper’s final assessment.
      • Summarize (in your own words) the peer and instructor feedback you received on an initial draft.
      • Identify and explain how and why you have drawn on this feedback to make substantive revisions to the first draft.  (And, to go a step further, ask students to address which feedback they have modified or rejected; again, noting why.)
      • Evaluate the major strengths and limitations of the revised draft and/or ask for specific, targeted feedback.
    • The memo is worth a portion of the final paper’s grade. The memo will be assessed for clarity, concision, and completeness. The instructor will use the revision memo to either provide additional feedback (if this is a penultimate draft), or as a factor in the paper’s final assessment.

Due date
Students attach the revision memo to the paper draft, and retain a copy for their files.  Both documents must be included to receive credit for the assignment. 

Learn more – Responding for Revision

Learn more – Revision Memo

The Center for Writing – Teaching with Writing Tips 

To receive the monthly TWW Tip, as well as occasional announcements about Teaching with Writing panels, discussions, and workshops, you can subscribe to the Center’s listserv. To be added to the listserv, please send a request to, and Center staff will be happy to add you to the next emailing.

 Recent TWW Tips are archived at

Tim Gustafson –

Jules Thompson –


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: