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A Writing Guide for Social Work


As this guide continues to argue, our students need our help in adopting effective writing practices, particularly by dividing up large projects into tasks of manageable size. Under tight deadlines we all cut corners, and students who save too much work for the last weekend before the paper is due will inevitably turn in papers that have a variety of errors, and may even plagiarize unintentionally. It is certainly true that some students simply don’t want to put in enough time on any given project, but in most cases, we can help.

Tips to Make Your Grading Easier: Conduct Draft Reviews

In the previous section, this guide suggested using a variety of “process assignments” to help students get started early enough to produce high-quality work. We’ll now turn our attention to the final process assignment, the draft review. This assignment takes two basic forms—we can review drafts ourselves, or have students review each other’s—but its core purpose is the same: We need to encourage students to revise their papers, and not simply proofread them. Revision addresses problems with argumentation. It’s a matter of how students make claims and support them, and how their work addresses the rhetorical situation we have set them. To that end, all of our work on draft review should emphasize these large-scale issues, and deal with grammar and style only if there are catastrophic problems. Draft-reviews take time, but we’ll earn that time back in the final grading process, when students turn in clearer, more effective assignments.

TIP #12: Assign Peer Review of Drafts

There is a clear trade-off between the two different methods for organizing a draft-review. Peer reviews take less grading time outside of class, but they work best if run in an in-class setting, so they may occupy up to a full class-period (1-2 hours). In addition, it will be necessary to “train” students to conduct the review effectively, so that they give feedback that their colleagues will be able to use. A “worksheet” or guide can provide useful recommendations or instructions. On the other hand, seeing their peers attempting to fulfill the same writing requirements can help our students understand the assignment itself, and the writing situation in general.

It is possible to conduct this assignment electronically, outside of class, but this can only really be effective if the students are already experienced in reading one another’s work and responding in writing. “Discussion Board” formats are often handy here, too, since they help everyone (particularly instructors) keep track of documents and responses.

Peer Review of Drafts

  • Time: One Group-Based Project, 1-2 hours in class (depends on paper length, student abilities, and depth of review).
  • Purpose: Reading one another’s papers can help students attain a sense of the class’s culture, climate, and values. Evaluating these papers can also give them the practice they will need, in order to evaluate their own work.
  • Assignment: Working in small groups, students read one another’s papers. When reading full papers, students often need further guidance to help them provide effective feedback. Most default to a cursory review of grammar and APA, and miss glaring structural or content problems, so we should provide a set of guidelines or specific questions. Students can offer feedback verbally, in a “workshop” setting, but this is often more time consuming than handwritten or emailed feedback.
  • Response: It is often best for us to take a quick look at how effectively students have responded to this assignment, but often no significant grading time is needed.

TIP #13: Assign Draft Submission

Reviewing student drafts outside of class does take time, and can be frustrating if we don’t make our expectations clear. A draft submission should receive a grade or a score of some kind, to help indicate that it is a distinct step from the final submission, and we should make clear that we expect significant revisions when we give advice. Many students have had prior experience with draft review processes that basically involved proofreading, rather than revising, so we will need to make clear that grammatical fixes or edits to APA style will not be sufficient.

Instructor Review of Drafts

  • Time: One Evaluated Assignment, Outside of Class
  • Purpose: Although time-consuming, reviewing drafts helps students get through the writing process sooner. When we provide clear and useful feedback, we can also encourage students to see their work as an ongoing process, in which they can reassess, reorganize, and retrench their projects before turning them in for a grade.
  • Assignment: Again, there are many potential variations on this kind of assignment. For large projects, partial drafts might be useful, but for the most part it’s best to let students get all the way through the writing process before reviewing their work. Also, many students enter this assignment in the hopes that we will simply “rubber stamp” their draft, and let them turn it in as a final product, so it’s best to make clear that substantive revisions will be expected.
  • Response: Responding to “process” drafts is perhaps even more difficult than responding to the finished paper. For less-experienced students, substantial revisions may be required, so it may be best to focus on content and structure, and leave grammar, style, and references for later. Nit-picky draft reviews have a way of convincing students that all they need to do is fix the grammatical errors and send the project straight back to us. Again, because this is a formative process assignment, it may be useful to provide APA feedback, but scoring on APA style, in whole or in part, may be counterproductive at this stage. It may be useful, however, to provide a “hypothetical” grade: what the paper would earn, if evaluated in its current state. A and B grades should be used sparingly here, since students receiving such high hypothetical grades will probably not revise extensively.

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A Writing Guide for Social Work
Created in 2011-12 by Christopher D. Kilgore for the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Arlington