How To Ask For Feedback On Writing

A post over at Vitae, a Chronicle of Higher Education blog, gives pointers to academic writers on getting a useful critique. 

In anticipation of the first draft conferences with my international LL.M. students, I couldn't help but wish that they knew this information. The writing coach noted that the writer should reflect on what he or she really wants to know about specific aspects of the piece. 

In short, the first step to getting helpful feedback is to define your reader’s job. For example, are you wondering how you might expand the discussion section of your draft? Are you uncertain whether its current organization logically supports your thesis? Are you thinking you need more context to set up your argument? Do you suspect a certain point needs further explication?

Many students come to draft conferences with the notion that they did their (half-hearted) part; now it's the professors turn to tell them how to completely improve their paper to get an A. And when that doesn't happen, you end up with problems after grading with questions like, "why did I get a B? You didn't tell me that in the draft conference...." 

I make a point to warn my students that I will only comment on what they turn in. This is an incentive to turn in a well-developed draft. The more that they give me, the more I will give them. I also tell them to come to me with questions - which parts of the writing assignment did they specifically have trouble with? 

In the future, I may just share this article with them so that they get a better idea of what the feedback process should be. It's not a time to sit back and relax and let someone else do your work for you; it's a time to reflect on your writing and determine where you could use the most help. 


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