Dealing with feedback
We here focus on teacher (or publisher/editor) feedback.
At the bottom of this page you will find some advice on how to deal with peer review feedback.
Formative or summative feedback?
The feedback you receive as a student on your writing is either formative or summative:
Formative feedback is the comments that you receive on drafts and on your ongoing work. If your writing follows the writing process model, you will perhaps get feedback several times as feedback you receive along the way is intended to help you develop and improve your text while you work on it.
Summative feedback, on the other hand, consists of any comments and the grade you receive at the end of the writing process.
Formative feedback can thus help you improve your work-in-progress, whereas any information you get in the form of summative feedback can help you in future writing assignments by indicating strong and weak points in your text.
Depending on what kind of feedback you have received, there are different approaches you can take to improve your text and your writing.
Make sure you understand the feedback
Students unaccustomed to receiving the types of feedback they are likely to receive at university sometimes feel that the comments they get are harsh and negative. It is worth remembering that teachers target relevant aspects of the assignment in their feedback, and that they often comment only on things that form part of the assessment. This means there is often no room for personal comments: the comments you receive on your writing are intended to help you in your learning as well as to back up your teacher's assessment of your knowledge and skills.
When you receive teacher feedback, go through all comments carefully and make sure you understand what your teacher expects you to do. If your teacher has provided feedback that you do not understand, search information that will help you resolve the problem before you ask your teacher for help.
Some tips on how to approach feedback
Although feedback looks different in different courses and although demands differ, below you will find some general advice on how to work with the feedback you receive.
Separate global issues and local issues
It is often a good idea to work with one thing at a time when revising a text. For instance, if you need to revise the overall structure of your text, start with that before you revise sentence-level issues.
In our section on revision strategies, you will find much information that is useful also when you deal with feedback you have received.
Work with your checklist
If you already have developed a writer's checklist, it can be useful when you revise your text. If you have not yet put together such a checklist, this might be a good time to do so.
Teachers are not proofreaders
When revising your text, consider that although your teacher might have pointed out recurring language issues once or twice, you will have to go through the text to see if there are other instances of identified issues. Your teacher may also state - without giving any details - that there are language issues which make your text difficult to read, and that those issues need to be addressed.
If the feedback is not what you expected
Sometimes, students take feedback on their writing personally although their teachers' comments refer to a text, not to the student as a person. If you feel that your teacher has provided unjustified comments, try to step away from your text for a day or two (if possible) before you read the comments again.
Then try to identify the main points of criticism and assess them with an open mind. Sometimes, teachers' comments do not refer only to what you have written but to what might be lacking in the text or to aspects of writing that you may have missed. Here are a few examples:
- If your text is an argumentative piece of writing, does the criticism refer to something that is missing in your argument or perhaps to something you have not presented clearly?
- If you draw on specific terms or theoretical concepts in your essay, have you used them correctly or could your text benefit from some revision and clarification?
- If there are many language errors in a text, it may be difficult to read. This means that although you think your text is clear, it may not have been so to your examiner. Have you proofread your text and made sure there are no avoidable errors (that is, errors that a spell-check or grammar-check in your word-processing programme would pick up on)?
Although teachers will be happy to discuss their feedback, always reflect on comments you have received before you approach your teacher. That will help you formulate questions on aspects you wish to bring up and it will also give you a chance to step away from the text and perhaps see it with new eyes.
Dealing with student peer feedback
Once you have received feedback from your peers, read through their comments carefully before you start making any revisions to your text. The reviewer's role is to bring up aspects of your text that they think need to be developed or revised, but as the writer, you will yourself need to decide on any revisions you make, since you will be responsible for your text.
If the peer reviewing is carried out in a course, you will often be able to discuss the comments you have received with the reviewer, and this is an opportunity to ask for clarifications and to discuss ways of solving issues that have been brought up. As a peer reviewer of other students' texts, you will also be able to discuss their texts, thereby learning how other writers think about their texts.
In the online book Writing in English at University: A Guide for Second Language Writers, pp. 29-30, you will find some further tips on how to deal with feedback you have received from peers.