Strategies For Commenting In The Margins Of Student Papers
Rank criteria and concentrate comments on the most important features.
Refer comments to specific criteria in your assignment.
Ask questions to elicit more thinking about a point.
Frame questions and comments from "a reader's" point of view. Especially if you've assigned the paper to be written to a specific audience, read and comment from that point of view.
Be specific. Rather than just noting "nice," explain (even briefly) what works well in an effective passage: "nice examples," "good use of source material," and so on.
Where a student handles a skill well, circle it and draw an arrow to where the student could do the same in a weaker part of the paper.
Focus your energies. If, for example, development is a problem throughout the paper, pick one paragraph and explain how it could be more fully developed. Then simply note that the advice can apply to the rest of the paper.
Play Devil's Advocate to help students tease out their thinking in a murky passage.
Pay some attention to detail: has the writer filled in enough detail appropriate to your discipline to explain, argue, or describe adequately?
Consider visual features: would headings help chunk the text? Might a visual display of data be more effective? Would a different visual display of data be more effective?
Consider how and where source material can contribute more to the paper.
Always refer to your particular criteria for an assignment!