Commentary Techniques

In her article "The Value of Written Peer Criticism" Mara Holt discussed various commentary techniques. Three that have worked well in my experience are "nutshelling", stating "expectations", and expressing "belief and doubt".

· Nutshelling is asking the writer to concisely state his or her point so that you as a tutor understand what he or she is trying to get across. Although this is extremely hard to do in commentary, this is a good idea to have in your head as you write commentary. The idea of nutshelling can and does lead to questions that may result in the reader realizing that his or her main point is unclear.

· Stating expectations can show the reader where you as a reader were confused in a facilitative way. An example of using expectation in commentary may read as follows: "After I read your second paragraph I expected a discussion of why cats were better than dogs". If this statement is not the conclusion the writer meant for the reader to have, he or she can go back to that part of the paper and re-phrase or add information.

· Expressing belief and doubt can cause a reader to look for more proof for their points without discouraging the reader. Playing cheerleader or devil's advocate for the reader by asking for more proof can motivate the reader as well as point out a weak area in his or her argument

Placement of commentary is also a form of commentary technique. A commentator can place comments either directly on the paper or address concerns in a separate letter to the writer. Both styles have their pluses and drawbacks. While writing the comment directly helps the writer see exactly where the reader became lost or confused, writing on the paper can become directive and counter-productive. Although a separate letter to the writer will be very facilitative in nature, a letter can become too general in its comments and the reader may not know where or how to begin to revise his or her paper. The placement of commentary is up to the individual commentator.

Examples of Commentary

Reflections on Commentary

My Struggles with Commentary

Directive Commentary

Facilitative Commentary

End Comments