Your written comments on students’ work should be used to help them understand the strengths and weaknesses of their work, and to make clear how their work has or has not achieved the goals and standards set in the class. Here are some suggestions on how to make your comments meaningful to students. For more detailed advice about writing comments on papers, see Commenting on Student Papers.

  • Think about the sorts of comments that you find helpful and unhelpful. For example, avoid one-word comments such as “good,” “unclear,” or “awkward.” If you think that something is good, unclear, or awkward you should explain in concrete terms why you think so (“You develop the implications very effectively here”) or propose an alternative (“Did you mean x?”).
  • Think about the extent to which you want to comment on each aspect of the assignment. For example, how important are punctuation and spelling? Is it enough to have one or two comments on grammar or syntax, or would more extensive comments be appropriate?
  • Don’t overwhelm the student with a lot of different comments. Approximately one to three comments per page will be enough. Focus on a couple of major points rather than comment on everything.
  • Write specific comments in the margin and more general comments at the end of the assignment. General comments give the students an overall sense of what went right or wrong and how they might improve their work in the future. Specific comments identify particular parts of the assignment that are right or wrong and explain why.
  • What has been omitted from the paper or exam response is as important as what has been included. Ask questions to point out something that’s missing or to suggest improvements. Try to give the students a good overall sense of how they might improve their work.
  • Don’t comment exclusively on weaknesses. Identify strengths and explain them. This helps students know their progress, and helps them build their skills. Write as many comments on good work as on bad work. In addition to commenting on things the student does well, think about how the student might work to improve his or her writing even further.
  • Write legibly or type your comments.
  • Don’t be sarcastic or make jokes. What seems funny to you may be hurtful to students and not provide the guidance they need for improvement.
  • Discuss difficult cases with other GSIs or the instructor in charge.
  • Keep a record of common problems and interesting ideas to discuss in class.
  • Make sure you have adequately explained the reason for the grade.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Writing Comments

  • What are the strengths in this piece of work? What are the weaknesses? What stands out as memorable or interesting?
  • Does the work have a clear thesis or main point, either explicit or implicit? Is it clear what point the author is trying to make and why? Are the main points and ideas clear? Are they specific enough? Are they clearly related to the assignment?
  • Does the author provide sufficient evidence or argumentative support?
  • Is the writing clear, concise, coherent, and easy and interesting to read? Are the grammar and syntax acceptable? Is the writing style appropriate? Does the author understand all of the words and phrases that they are using?
  • Does the work have a clear, logical structure? Are the transitions clear? Is there one main point per paragraph?
  • Are the factual claims correct?
  • Does the author provide the appropriate citations and bibliographical references?