Writing: Feedback, Rubric, and Composition

Joseph Reagle

Feedback

Four stages of competence

conscious competence 

Good feedback

  1. highlights both strengths to continue and weaknesses to remedy
  2. is focused on the task, not the learner
  3. is prioritized and in manageable units towards remediable concerns
  4. is specific and clear, connected to goals (rubric)

Grades

are are not
reflection of performance reflection of individual intelligence
related to effort assessed on effort; it must be skillful
roughly accurate over time perfectly objective
chance to turn disappointment ➡ learning

Rubric

Engagement

Was the assignment directly addressed and were the appropriate concepts and texts employed? Was it impressive, appropriate, lacking, inappropriate, or nonexistent?

Engagement ☑

  • Did you make a checklist and follow directions?
  • Did you make use of course material, rather than spending too much time describing the topic?
  • Did you write down all the possible course concepts and then engage your topic, as I recommend in Choosing a Topic?
  • To avoid complaints of “too abstract,” did you paraphrase or excerpt the definition of a concept, even if you don’t use it in the final prose, so it is clear in your mind?

Understanding

Understanding of readings, discussions, themes and ideas might be impressive, thorough and solid, somewhat fragmented, unsatisfactory, or nonexistent.

Understanding ☑

  • Did you show close readings of your topic (e.g., quotations and paraphrases) from your topic and course texts? (see Writing Responses).
  • Did you explain what course concepts mean instead of simply use them in passing (see Writing Class Essays)?
  • Did you ask questions or make arguments at a high level: did you apply, analyze, or synthesize existing concepts—or even generate new ones (e.g., frameworks, taxonomies, theories)?

Writing

Writing might be polished, clear and competent, choppy and difficult to follow, fractured and unclear, or unacceptable.

Writing ☑

  • Did you make sure you have a strong introduction/framing and conclusion paragraph?
  • Did you follow and check spelling, grammar, and compositional rules? (Consult your writing and style manual and my writing feedback handout.)

Scholarly support

Use APA, MLA, or Chicago. For APA:

According to Jones (1998), “Silky terriers have soft hair” (p. 19).

Jones (1998) found “silky terriers have soft hair” (p. 19); do you agree?

She stated, “Silky terriers have soft hair” (Jones, 1998, p. 19), but she did not offer an explanation as to why.

—See “APA signal phrases” in OWL or Hacker

APA misc.

  • it is: “p. 53” not “pg.53”
  • citations don’t have to be at end of sentence, can be with the author if mentioned earlier
  • collapse repeated citations occurring within single paragraph
  • secondary sources: “In Smith’s study (as cited in Flebert, 1993), …”

Also see APA cheat-sheet and self quiz.

Tips

Instructions checklist ☑

Heinrich "Milo" Steinborn lifting weights

  • how to format
  • where to include name
  • structure
  • bibliographic style, etc.

Active engagement

  • Refer to authors rather than “the article” or “in the book” and “in the paper” (see “APA signal phrases”)
  • Analyze or answer, do not consider, explore, or discuss.

Active voice

A census is taken by the government every ten years so that proportional representation in Congress can be determined.

Use subjects to name the characters; use verbs to name their important actions.

The government takes a census every ten years so as to determine proportional representation in Congress.

“I statements”

  • High-school might have prohibited the use of “I statements” so as to encourage formal writing or avoid unsupported beliefs and opinion.
  • In college, you should write directly. While “I statements” should be used sparingly, the first person (e.g., “I will argue…”) is preferred to indirectness (e.g., “It is argued…”), nonsensicalness (e.g., “This paper will argue…”), or the royal we (e.g., “We will show…”)
  • Claims should be substantiated by logical development, evidence, analysis, authority—via citation—or personal experience, as appropriate to the assignment.

Tips (2)

  • Check for clarity and concision, cohesion (sentences follow one another), and coherence (a paragraph as a clear focus)
  • If you’re draft suffers from organizational issues, create a reverse outline and think about how to reorganize it. Use the outline to then improve your thesis, framing, and conclusion.
  • Get a writing and style manual, it’s a worthwhile $19 investment given the $$$ you are paying for school.
  • Keep a list of composition and grammar mistakes you’ve made (e.g., citations go outside quote marks) and check your work against this in the future.

Structure

  1. a snappy start
    • sharp, surprising, controversial, or funny
    • no trite universal claims (e.g., “Social media keeps growing and growing”)
    • no “very interesting” (or “insightful” or “fascinating”); show it
  2. a statement of your thesis (e.g., argument or question)
    • avoid “exploring” or “analyzing” in favor of a more direct thesis: “I argue.”
  3. a framing of what is to follow
  4. an argument/analysis/discussion
  5. a conclusion: concisely restate framing and thesis

Exemplar intro

“According to the 2008 US Census, the state of Massachusetts had a total of 141,843 business organizations…. I argue that although small businesses are often overlooked, they do still exhibit important facets of organizational culture. I will focus on the application of The Zen of Groups, Geert Hofstede’s power distance, and theories of organizational behavior to my experiences in these settings. My goal is to draw upon my professional work experience and identify examples of the aforementioned concepts. Providing concrete instances of these theories will offer a solid understanding of the ever changing and complex environments of contemporary business organizations.”

Heavy concepts in intro

In the first few introductory paragraphs, be wary of using special terms that need explanation.

  • Not explaining them will be confusing.
  • Explaining them will be distracting from thesis and framing.

For instance, instead of using intrinsic and extrinsic in the first paragraph, speak of motivation more generally (or give the quickest of parenthetical explanations).

Analytic concepts

Don’t imply that your analytic concepts are known by that which you analyze.

The phenomenal theory would look at …

Theories don’t look at anything.

The creators of these ads use the theory of ideology …

The creators probably haven’t given any thought to the theory.

Revision symbols

See “Revision symbols” appendix at end of Hacker. Also:

  • ✓, ~, x = good, weak, missing
    • S, T, F, C = snappy, thesis, framing, conclusion
  • ⎵ = space needed
  • AC = analytic concepts confused
  • active = write in active voice
  • awk = awkward, find alternative
  • H14a = Hacker section 14a
  • ti = tighten for concision
  • wc = word choice, find alternative

Write and then rewrite

“The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”—Mark Twain

“There is no great writing, only great rewriting.”—Justice Louis Brandeis

“I’m all for the scissors. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”—Truman Capote

Composition

“A woman without her man is nothing”?

A woman, without her man, is nothing.

A woman: without her, man is nothing.



—Sources: Hacker’s (2010, 5th) A Pocket Style Manual and Purdue’s Online Writing Lab.

1 wordy sentences

Remove redundancies (1a), empty or inflated phrases (1b), and needlessly complex structures (1c).

—Also OWL:Conciseness

Trim redundancies

Visitors are warned to take every precaution to avoid accidents


—Also OWL:Eliminating Words and Williams’ concision

eg trim (a)

The message of women’s inferiority in society that this advertisement is giving to its audience in the ad is based off the producer’s opinion, since not everyone in the world thinks that way.

superfluous: “society” and “audience”; “everyone” and “in the world”

eg trim (b)

Fiat, an Italian car manufacturer, came out with a commercial that launched a new commercial this year during the 2012 Super Bowl.

superfluous: “came out” and “launched”; “this year” and “2003”

3a balance parallel ideas: items in a series

Balance all items in the series by presenting them in parallel grammatical form.

Cross-training involves a variety of exercises, such as running, swimming, and lifting weights.


—Also OWL:Parallel Structure

5b shift in tense

Consistent verb tenses clearly establish the time of the actions being described. When a passage begins in one tense and then shifts without warning and for no reason to another, readers are distracted and confused.

There was no way I could fight the current and win. Just as I was losing hope, a stranger jumps jumped off a passing boat and swims swam toward me.


—Also OWL:Verb Tense Consistency

7a misplaced modifiers

The most commonly misplaced words are limiting modifiers such as only, even, almost, nearly, and just. They should appear in front of the verb only if they modify a verb. If they limit the meaning of some other word in the sentence, they should be placed in front of that word.

Lasers only destroy only the target, leaving the surrounding healthy tissue intact.


—See OWL:Misplaced modifiers

7b misplaced (distant) phrases or clauses

When phrases or clauses are oddly placed, absurd misreadings can result.

On the walls there are many pictures of comedians who have performed at Gavin’s on the walls.

The comedians weren’t performing on the walls; the pictures were on the walls.

14a fragmented clauses

A subordinate clauses looks like a sentence, with a subject & verb, but begins with the an indication it cannot stand alone—words such as after, although, because, before, if, so that, that, though, unless, until, when, where, who, or which. They can be pulled into a sentence nearby.

Patricia arrived on the island of Malta. Where where she was to spend the summer restoring frescoes.


—See OWL:Sentence Fragments

14b fragmented phrases

Like subordinate clauses, fragments lack a subject, a verb, or both. Frequently a fragmented phrase may simply be attached to a nearby sentence.

The archaeologists work slowly . Examining examining and labeling hundreds of pottery shards.

The word group beginning with Examining is a verbal phrase, not a sentence.

17 The comma


—See OWL:Commas: Quick Rules

17a ind. nonrestr. clause

Nearly everyone has heard of love at first sight, but I fell in love from a distance.

Do not use when the clauses are dependent

Marie Curie discovered radium, and later applied her work on radioactivity to medicine.

17d coord. adjectives

Use a comma between coordinate adjectives: modify nouns separately & can be replaced with an ‘and’.

Patients with severe, irreversible brain damage should not be put on life support.

Patients with severe and irreversible brain damage should not be put on life support.

17d coord. adjectives

Do not use between cumulative adjectives.

He bought a bright, red car.

17e nonrestr. clause

A nonrestrictive phrase is not essential and needs commas.

The helicopter, with its million-candlepower spotlight illuminating the area, circled above.

A restrictive phrase is essential and is without commas.

One corner of the attic was filled with newspapers, dating from the 1920s.

17e restr. appositive

An appositive is a (pro)noun that renames a nearby noun.

Nonrestrictive with commas:

Darwin’s most important book, On the Origin of Species, was the result of many years of research.

Restrictive without commas:

The song ,“Vertigo”, was blasted out of amplifiers ten feet tall.

17j misuse of commas

(many instances)

18b The colon

The colon is used after an independent clause to call attention to the words that follow it. The colon has certain conventional uses such as directing the readers’ attention to a list, an appositive, or a quotation.

20d punctuation within quotation marks

Place periods and commas inside quotation marks; colons and semicolons outside; question marks and exclamation inside unless they apply to the sentence as a whole.

In APA, a period follows the citation.

… the end of a quote" (p. 53).


—See OWL:Punctuation Rules with Quotation Marks

21d The Dash

The hyphen (-), dash (–), and em-dash (—) are distinct things.

Other issues

  • The plural of medium is media (not mediums or medias).
  • Wikipedia should not be cited as an authoritative source for a claim unless appearing in the syllabus, see The Why and How of Bibliography.