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Evaluating and Responding to Writing


How you respond to student writing plays a large role in the quality of the student’s learning experience. This page provides resources to help you comment effectively and efficiently on student writing. It also offers resources for evaluating the quality of student writing–i.e., methods and approaches for assessment and grading.

See also: Assessment Methods and Criteria under Conducting Peer Review for tips and rubrics for providing feedback during peer review sessions.


A Brief Guide to Responding to Student Writing (PDF) (Harvard Writing Project)
The Harvard Writing Project Brief Guide series provides concise introductions to writing instruction for faculty members and teaching fellows.

Diagnosing and Responding to Student Writing (The Institute for Writing and Rhetoric, Dartmouth College)
This handout presents ways to diagnose writing weaknesses and ways to respond to writing to help the writer grow. The handout also discusses time management in the process.

Featured Resources on Responding to Writing (National Writing Project)
Links to a wide range of resources, including book reviews and full articles. Articles (available as PDFs) range from Nancy Sommer’s “Responding to Student Writing” (1981) to recent publications on peer review, revision strategies, and more.

Haswell, Richard H., The Complexities of Responding to Student Writing; or, Looking for Shortcuts via the Road of Excess, Across the Disciplines, Vol. 3 (Nov. 9, 2006).
“In all academic disciplines college teachers respond to student writing with shortcuts—checksheets, correction symbols, computer style checkers, etc. But while these methods save teachers time, do they help students improve their writing? A survey of research into teacher commentary, conceived of as a contextual discourse activity, initially questions the efficiency of many shortcuts because it finds complexities in all activity areas, in regulation (criteria, rules of genre and mode, disciplinary styles, and standards), consumption, production, representation, and identity. The research, however, also recommends particular shortcuts and methods of revising them for better efficiency and effect. It especially recommends restricting the volume of teacher commentary in ways that are task, discipline and learner specific.”

Haswell, Richard H., Minimal Marking, College English, Vol. 45, No. 6 (Oct., 1983), pp. 600-604.
Available on JSTOR with login (Montclair State Univ. faculty, staff, and students can access JSTOR through Sprague Library).

Responding and Grading (Center for Writing, Univ. of Minnesota)
Provides various resources on “Approaches to Response” and “Approaches to Grading,” as well as samples of responding activities and handouts, and samples of grading activities and tools.

Responding to Student Papers Effectively and Efficiently (Univ. of Toronto Writing)
Guidelines for assigning a paper, marking it, and returning it that “are based on research studies of students’ attitudes to grading and teacher commentary.”

Responding to Student Writing (PDF) (Kerry Walk, Former Director of the Princeton Writing Program, Princeton Univ.)
“Comments and grades on student writing arguably constitute the most serious, sustained teaching intervention you can make in a student’s writing career. Responding to a student’s paper involves (1) reading it carefully while making marginal comments, (2) writing a final comment in which you sum up the paper’s strengths and weaknesses, then (3) deciding on a grade.” This link provides suggestions for completing these three parts to commenting on student papers.

Responding to Student Writing – Principles and Practices (Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, Univ. of Michigan)
Includes best practices and time-saving strategies for responding to papers.

Teaching in the Margins: Commenting on Student Writing (Writing@CSU)
“One of the most common complaints from teachers across campus is that student writing is so weak that reading and responding to papers becomes an overwhelming task. This resource is designed to make responding to student writing more feasible.”

Teaching with Writing: Grammar and Mechanics (Center for Writing, Univ. of Minnesota)
“Many instructors perceive that they should spend considerable time teaching correct grammar and usage. Studies tell us, however, that spending lots of time on explicit grammar instruction is less effective than brief and focused work on “surface” issues in the writing in which students are currently engaged and at an appropriate time in the process. In this section, we provide resources on how to teach grammar and mechanics in courses across the curriculum.”

Tips for Commenting on Student Writing (Washington Univ. in St. Louis Teaching Center)
“The following tips can help you improve the effectiveness and efficiency with which you respond to your students’ writing. These tips focus on the process of writing comments on students’ papers (whether on rough drafts or final drafts), rather than on the process of grading papers. Grading and commenting on papers are certainly interconnected processes. However, while instructors often think of writing comments on papers as simply a means to justify grades, that purpose should be secondary to helping your students improve their writing skills.”


Resolution on Grading Student Writers (NCTE Position Statement)
At the 1993 NCTE Annual Business Meeting, this statement was released: “Resolved, that the National Council of Teachers of English encourage teachers to refrain as much as possible from using grades to evaluate and respond to student writing, using instead such techniques as narrative evaluations, written comments, dialogue journals, and conferences.” This site includes background information and more on the resolution statement.

Responding and Grading: Approaches to Grading (Univ. of Kansas Writing Center)
“In this section, you’ll find paradigms for effectively and efficiently responding to student writing, as well as multiple approaches to grading and evaluation.”

Peter Elbow, Grading Student Writing: Making it Simpler, Fairer, Clearer New Directions for Teaching and Learning, No. 69 (Spring 1997)
“This chapter suggests two ways to make the grading of writing easier, fairer and more helpful for students: using minimal grades or fewer levels of quality, and using criteria that spell out the features of good writing that we are looking for in the assignment.”

Pruning Too Early: The Thorny Issue of Grading Student Writing Stephanie Wilder, National Writing Project (NWP), The Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 4, Fall 1997
Link to download the PDF of the article on this webpage.
“Wilder creates an analogy comparing cutting back a garden as it is in the process of maturing to grading a student paper while it is still evolving and in a revisable state.”

Tchudi, Stephen, ed., Alternatives to Grading Student Writing.NCTE
“This collection of essays offers several innovative options for introducing grading alternatives in classrooms, schools, and districts.”
Sample chapter and Table of Contents available as PDFs on this webpage.
Writing Assessment: A Position Statement (Conference on College Composition and Communication)
This document, prepared by the CCCC Committee on Assessment, establishes guidelines intended to ensure that assessment practices “are valid, fair, and appropriate to the context and purposes for which they designed.” Its underlying principles are as follows: “Assessments of written literacy should be designed and evaluated by well-informed current or future teachers of the students being assessed, for purposes clearly understood by all the participants; should elicit from student writers a variety of pieces, preferably over a substantial period of time; should encourage and reinforce good teaching practices; and should be solidly grounded in the latest research on language learning as well as accepted best assessment practices.”