Understanding tutors written comments

The written feedback on your assignment should help you to understand why you got a particular grade and also help you to do better next time. Tutors vary enormously in how much feedback they give students, and written feedback can be quite individual. Increasingly courses use feedback sheets', pro formas with headings, to break down how you have done into different categories. If your course does not use one of these, then you need to attend carefully to the comments in the margin and at the end of the piece of work.

The following are examples of tutors' comments:

• You need to develop an argument.

• This essay lacks structure.

• I need a clear introduction telling me where you are going.

• I cannot see your reading.

• Could you clarify this point?

• More analysis of this point is necessary.

Comments like these will probably seem familiar to you, but the question is how you actually make sense of them and use them in your next piece of written work. As we have said, it is important to pay attention to the feedback and not just to the grade that you have got for your assignment. The feedback should help to point you in the direction of what went wrong (and, of course, right) in this assignment and how you can build on what you have learnt for next time. The way in which you can use feedback depends a little on how your course is structured. If you are following a modular course in which all your writing is assessed, then you may find that you do not get back your written work, and hence your feedback, until you have finished the module. In this case, it can be more difficult for you to put your feedback to good use for the next piece of writing. In general, assignments should be returned during the duration of a particular course, so that you are in a position to draw on feedback for next time.

The feedback that you get is likely to deal with both the content of the assignment and the way in which you have written this content: broadly speaking, comments referring to argument', structure', clarity', analysis' and meaning' would be part of the latter. The content comments will tend to be more specific to the piece of writing and less generalizable to other pieces of written work. If you are interested in learning for next time, then you need to concentrate on those comments which deal with the ways in which you have written your central idea and argument and put your themes together. These comments should give you some clues to writing further assignments. If you do not understand the feedback comments, then you should make every effort to follow this up and ask the tutor concerned. Tutors tend to use their own shorthand and have their own personal preferences for how you should be writing. Comments such as those below may be well meaning but are very difficult to unpack if you want to make use of them:

We cannot really stress enough how essential it is that you ask if you don't understand. Another useful strategy, as we have already suggested, is to compare your feedback with that of other students. This can be a helpful way of understanding how the tutor wanted the question to be answered.

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