Feedback on academic writing

Part One - Less is more
Julie Moore
This is the first article of a three part series on giving EAP students effective
feedback. Look out for the next one in the February issue of Teaching Adults.
Although I’ve been working in ELT publishing for some 15 years, co-authoring
Oxford EAP Advanced was the first time I’ve been involved in writing a whole
coursebook. It was a very steep learning curve in all kinds of ways, but perhaps one
of the most challenging parts of the whole experience was the process of having my
writing edited. I’d spend long hours at my desk writing a unit, then I’d email my
completed draft off to my editor and wait with trepidation for her feedback. When I
opened up her reply, my heart would often sink at the sight of those tightly-packed
comments squeezed down the margin of every page and the prospect of ploughing
my way through them!
So when I finally got away from my desk and back into the classroom again last
summer to teach on a pre-sessional EAP course, I approached giving feedback on
my students’ own writing with a fresh perspective. But what lessons had I learnt?
Less is more
In an EAP context, writing is a key skill and as teachers, we have a tendency to want
to give as much feedback on written work as possible. Our intentions are good – we
want to help our students improve – but the effect can sometimes be the opposite.
Students are so overwhelmed by all the feedback that they either get demotivated
and lose confidence, or they skim through to find the grade or the final comment and
then file away all our careful feedback, largely unread.
Having experienced how daunting masses of feedback can be for a writer, I was
determined to make the process less scary and more productive for my students. I
turned to publishing again for a way of breaking it down into more manageable
 content editing – focus on what is written, rather than how
 copyediting – focus on style, voice, flow, etc.
 proofreading – tidying up surface errors
In this article, I’m going to talk about the first stage of the editing/feedback process:
Focus on content
For many students new to EAP, their experience of writing in English has been
mostly of short, functional letters and emails, and if they have written essays, they’ll
have been of the rather simple, formulaic kind which are designed essentially to
practise or test the student’s language abilities. In an ELT context, the focus is often
not really on what you write so much as the language you manage to display. A
student can produce a fairly inane piece of writing, saying really very little of any

wasn’t it? It was important that I explained clearly what I was doing and why. And did the approach work? Overall. I kept copies of students’ writing to use examples (anonymously) as part of other activities on specific language points. . By concentrating first on what they were expected to write. So in the first few writing activities I did with my EAP students. it laid a solid base on which to build the details of how to write as the course went on. I also reassured them that I’d be giving feedback at a more micro-level on their individual writing as the course went on. Julie taught general and business English for several years in Greece and the Czech Republic. She has a background in ELT dictionaries and corpus research. I’ll talk about copy-editing and feedback techniques for helping students achieve that all-important academic style. the following criteria to check a main body paragraph of an essay: 1 Have you stated the main argument clearly? 2 Do supporting points flow logically? 3 Are key concepts/terms clearly defined and/or explained? 4 Does the evidence support the main argument? 5 Have you included comment and/or evaluation to make your own stance clear? (Adapted from Oxford EAP Advanced) The initial reaction from some students was uneasy – surely it was my job to correct all their language errors. She has written Common Mistakes at IELTS Advanced (2007: CUP) and was senior editor for the Key Words for IELTS series (2011: Collins COBUILD). Julie now writes. Had they answered the question? Had they put forward a clear argument and supporting evidence? Had they offered analysis and evaluation as well as simple description? As we worked on some of these key principles of academic writing. In my feedback. This simply won’t cut it in an academic context where: “After all. I focused very much on content: on what they were expected to write. I ignored the surface language issues and commented only on how well they’d tackled the task. we teach college students to write not because we expect them to become writers. reasonably accurate grammar and throw in a few nice discourse markers.” (McBride. In my next article. Before going into publishing. but because writing is the evidence that they are mastering intellectual concepts. Julie Moore is an ELT writer and researcher based in Bristol in the UK. For example. I think it did. Since 2005. she has taught on summer EAP pre-sessional courses at the University of Bristol. having worked on a number of major learner’s dictionaries including specialist publications such as the Oxford Guide to British and American Culture and the Oxford Learner's Thesaurus.substance. but if they show a range of vocabulary. 2012). they can get a good mark. researches and edits a wide range of ELT materials. establishing routines and checklists they could use to edit their writing in the future. I encouraged students to evaluate the content of their own writing.

poynter. just as dishonest http://www.References de Chazal & Moore (2013) Oxford EAP Advanced/C1 (OUP) McBride (2012) ‘Patchwriting’ is more common than .