Praise: Writing Positive Commentary


This discussion so far has concerned methods for commenting on areas that could be improved in student writing. What is the best commentary strategy to use when something in the paper deserves praise? The most important strategy is the same as when commenting on problematic areas: write in full sentences, rather than fragments, which are specific to the text. Fragments, especially those in the end comment, are most often too general and do not explain to writers what precisely in the paper deserved praise. As the authors of The Practical Tutor write: "Empty margins and a brief end comment like "Grade: A. Fine work!" do not convey to writers what qualities made their papers "fine" (Meyer and Smith 139). In my personal experience, receiving a graded paper with one sentence at the end reading, "'A'--a well-written essay" is most frustrating. What exactly in my paper did I do well? Organization? Grammar? Creative insight into the topic? Where exactly in my paper did I do these things well? Writers of "A" papers do not necessarily know what their papers' strengths are. Receiving text-specific, complete statements of praise let writers know the skills they have excelled at so they can utilize the same skills in future assignments.

Writing praise in text-specific, complete sentences also balances the "negative" commentary. If problems are thoroughly explained in sentences that reflect what is written in the text, then so should the praise. Fragmented praise diminishes the praise's value. A student doubtful of her writing ability may feel that the professor included the scrap of praise just because he felt bad about giving the paper an entirely negative evaluation. If something is done well in a paper, praise that is given the full weight and honor of complete sentences reinforces or improves writers' attitudes towards their papers and their ability as writers.


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