Seven Types of Comments

In addition to examining how twelve well-known authorities on writing pedagogy commented on the writing of their students, researchers Richard Straub and Ronald F. Lunsford also look at how beginning instructors commented on their students’ writing. Seven types of comments emerge: directive, evaluative, advisory, interpretive, descriptive, directive questions (Socratic), and open-ended questions (discovery). The comments of beginners tended to be directive, evaluative, and/or advisory. The twelve leading authorities gave advisory responses to student papers also but tended to avoid directive and evaluative comments, preferring to give interpretive and descriptive feedback and/or to ask questions.

  1. Directive comments rewrite students' sentences or give students directions about what to do: "Use active voice."
  2. Evaluative comments make statements that evaluate the quality of the writing: "Excellent!" or "This sentence is awkward because the passive voice makes it difficult to know who is doing what."
  3. Advisory comments give students advice: "If I were you, I would use active voice here so readers know who is doing what to whom."
  4. Interpretive comments show an interpretation of wording: "By using of in your subtitle 'An Inquiry of the Everyday Liar,' you make me think the Everyday Liar is making the inquiry; however, your research paper actually takes the perspective of a truthful person trying to understand compulsive liars."
  5. Descriptive comments show a reader’s perspective by describing what the writing says and what it does: “The first paragraph introduces two points, and the second paragraph supports the first point by giving an example; however, the third paragraph introduces a new point not mentioned in the first paragraph.”
  6. Directive Questions (Socratic) ask questions that lead students to a desired conclusion: "Why do you use the present tense in this sentence and then change to the past tense in the next sentence?" In contrast, a directive statement would be, “Keep verb tense consistent”; an evaluative comment would be, “Faulty verb tense.”
  7. Open-ended Questions (discovery) ask questions without knowing the answers: "What criteria are you using for your evaluation?"

Summing up: according to the research of Straub and Lunsford, inexperienced writing instructors tend to write type 1 and 2 comments, experienced writing instructors tend to write type 4-7 comments, and both experienced and inexperienced instructors use type 3 comments.

*Adapted from Richard Straub and Ronald F. Lunsford, Twelve Readers Reading: Responding to College Student Writing (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton, 1995), Print.