How to Give Feedback

Duke sign with flowers

How to Interact with Students 

The specific details vary according to the course, but typically this is what to expect with your student:

  1. Meet your student: Readers and students will have a 30 minute “introductory meeting” to start. This meeting is a chance to discuss the student’s project. Students tell their readers what kind of writing they will be doing, the deadlines, and other pertinent information for the project. In this meeting, readers and students will get to know each other and decide whether to go forward with the collaboration.
  2. Receive first draft: Once the student has written a coherent draft of their paper, they will e-mail the draft to you for your feedback. Note that the deadlines for drafts and final papers depend on the directives and dates set forth by the instructor. Your student has the details on dates and will provide them to you.
  3. Meet live to discuss feedback: For most courses, you would provide students with your feedback on the draft prior to the meeting. During the meeting you would talk about your experience as a reader and discuss the student’s questions. If needed, we can provide you with some questions from the instructor specifically targeted to typical student writing in the course, around which to focus your comments. You may meet in whichever way is convenient for you.
  4. Feedback on revised draft: The student will take your comments into account when revising the paper (along with any other feedback they get) and then e-mail you the new draft. You will again offer comments and then interact in real time to discuss the revised penultimate draft. If all goes well, and the student is responsive and engaged, you will receive a copy of the final paper at the end of the semester.

Guidelines for Interactions

Leave the work in the student’s hands. Please, do not use editing tools such as “Track Changes”. They are good for collaborative writing but not suited to help students become better writers, since students can be tempted to passively accept your suggested changes rather than deciding for themselves which changes to make. Students will learn more if you can help them recognize where changes are needed, rather than doing the changing for them.

Share your thoughts, describe your reactions to what you read. Let the student know where you can follow the ideas and where you get lost; where you’re engaged and where you’re bored, confused, or frustrated; where you find an argument compelling and where you’re skeptical. It’s fine to do this without suggesting specific changes to address those issues. In fact, that’s what we expect you to do most of the time. 

Give advice where it seems warranted, but try to do so in terms of principles students can apply in the future, rather than as fixes to specific problems in their paper. For example, instead of: “You should insert a sentence here that says…,” try this: “When I read this kind of paper, I need to see an explicit statement of the question or problem that will be addressed so I can understand where the paper is headed. What would be such that statement in your paper?”

Let students know what’s working! While you will want to let students know about difficulties you have trying to make sense of their drafts, you should also let them know what’s good. These comments will encourage them to keep doing the things they’re doing well. Even brief comments such as “This is clear” or “I’m following you here” or “That’s pretty convincing” give students valuable information.

Methods to Provide Feedback

Written Comments

Your written comments help students understand your experience as a reader without focusing on editorial concerns. Here is an example of valuable written feedback:

Think-Aloud Responses

Another option is to record your reactions as you read the paper aloud. Here is an example of recorded responses:

Think-Aloud Response


Email the Reader Project coordinator at