reading papers and writing comments

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Step 2: Read and comment

partners’ essays, read carefully, and mark passages that strike you. Use my marking system: a straight line for strong places, and a wavy one for confusing places or questions. Write your questions and comments in the margins, but refrain from commenting on vocabulary or specific phrasings. (If you want to comment on the overall style, you can do that later, in the letter.)

Step 3: Write

Write each of your partners a response letter (minimum 1 page typed, double-spaced, one-inch margins).

Begin the letter by addressing the writer directly: “Dear _______,”

Give your letters 3 sections:

  • DESCRIPTION: Describe the writer’s draft in your own words: what do you see as their central claim or thesis, as you understand it? What do they contribute to the scholarly conversation?
  • PRAISE: Richard Straub writes: “Sincerity and specificity are everything when it comes to a compliment.” Take Straub’s advice to heart: you might point to one or two places that you think are especially powerful and say why you like them. It may be helpful to quote these places in your letter.
  • NEXT STEPS: Rather than thinking about how the writer could “fix” their draft—whether on the sentence level or more broadly—consider how they might developit. To that end, you might ask them questions that would push them to clarify or extend their thinking: “Could you say more about why you claim Z?” “Have you thought about X?” Or if you see avenues for development, areas that haven’t been explored yet in the essay, you could tell them about those.

End the letter with something positive, and some encouragement for the next draft.

One page for each paper

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