"Writing: Feedback, Rubric, and Composition"

Joseph Reagle



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).


are are not
reflection of performance reflection of individual intelligence
related to effort assessed on effort
roughly accurate over time perfectly objective
chance to turn disappointment into learning

Revision symbols

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


The goal

Writing assignments are opportunities to show your:

  1. knowledge of material, and
  2. skills, especially analytic and writing abilities.

Exercise the material so as to show your knowledge and skills.


Engagement of assignment, sources, and concepts might be:

grade meaning
A impressive
B appropriate
C lacking
D inappropriate
F nonexistent

Engagement ☑


Understanding of class sources and and concepts might be:

grade meaning
A impressive
B appropriate
C lacking
D inappropriate
F nonexistent

Understanding ☑


Writing might be

grade meaning
A polished
B clear and competent
C choppy and difficult to follow
D fractured and unclear
F unacceptable

Writing ☑

Scholarly support

Use APA, MLA, or Chicago. In APA, use signal phrases use authors as subject rather than the article.

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

Jones (1998) found “silky terriers are soft” (p. 19).

She stated, “Silky terriers are soft” (Jones, 1998, p. 19), but didn’t explain why.

APA misc.

—See APA cheat-sheet and self quiz.


Instructions checklist ☑

Heinrich "Milo" Steinborn lifting weights

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.

—See Explorations of Style on clear subjects and strong verbs.

“I statements”

Clarity, concision, cohesion, coherence


  1. 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. state thesis: argue or answer, consider, explore, & discuss
  3. framing of what is to follow
  4. argument/answer/analysis
  5. conclusion: a concise restatement of framing & thesis

—See OWL on structure

Example intro

“According to the 2008 US Census, 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. Providing concrete instances of these theories will offer a solid understanding of the ever changing and complex environments of contemporary business organizations.”

snappy startthesisframe.

Example structure

Heavy concepts in intro

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

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 your analytic concepts have agency.

The phenomenal theory would look at …

Theories don’t look at anything.

The creators of these ads use the theory of ideology …

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

Write, print, revise

“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


“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, Williams’ concision, and Tony1’s exercises

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.

12b unclear pronouns

Use pronouns with care—especially “it” at the start of sentences.

Sue told Sally that she had won the lottery!

Sue told Sally, “I won the lottery!”

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

Use comma when independent (i.e., distinct subjects).

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.

It was not dark red but bright red.

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

Periods/commas go inside quotation marks; colons/semicolons outside; question/exclaimation marks go inside unless they apply to the sentence as a whole.

He said, “I won’t go.”

In APA, a period follows the citation.

… the ‘end’ of a quote" (p. 53).

—See OWL:… Punctuation when Using Quotation Marks

21d The Dash

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

Other issues