Use a common error code sheet to give students quality feedback on their writing

January 27, 2015

Improving student writing can be a daunting task. If we hope to help students become better writers, we need to give them specific and diagnostic feedback about their writing problems. Students need a reliable resource that will explain appropriate usage and specific examples that illustrate how they can correct problems in their writing. In addition, students need opportunities to apply this new information to correct their own writing.

Design a sequence of writing assignments that require students to submit multiple drafts as milestone assignments and build to produce a larger, final writing project. A series of interlinked assignments creates opportunities for students to practice and improve their writing. Multiple writing assignments improve student writing most when students receive meaningful feedback and get guidance on how to correct their writing errors in future assignments.

Writing well requires writing often and re-writing in response to formative feedback. However, large enrollment classes create obstacles for instructors who would like to provide opportunities for their students to write frequently, obtain feedback, and use feedback to improve writing.

To reduce the burden of writing extensive feedback on student papers, instructors can use a code sheet that lists common writing errors. Instead of writing long marginal notes on student papers, instructors can write a short code as a marginal note and give students a handout that identifies the writing problem denoted by each code. Hardison (2013) describes a writing feedback sheet he created that that identifies 36 common writing problems with a 1-3 character code, describes the writing problem, and provides students with a link to a relevant instructional resource hosted on the Purdue OWL site.

The Online Writing Lab at Purdue University (the Purdue OWL, provides writing instruction , guidelines on a variety of academic editorial styles (APA, MLA), and other writing resources. These materials are openly available to all users. The instructional materials are useful for writers at all levels of skill. Novice writers will find resources on fundamentals of grammar and punctuation. Advanced writers will find detailed information about disciplinary editorial style and guidelines for academic writing in specific disciplines (technical writing; writing in the social sciences, medicine, nursing, engineering, or mathematics; creative writing, writing for journalism). The site grants permission to instructors to use Perdue OWL materials for in-class and out-of-class instruction.

You can find a link to John Hardison’s code sheet (available as a google spreadsheet) in his blog post.

Thanks to Kristie Abston, Ph.D., SPHR, Assistant Professor of Management, University of West Florida for sharing her writing feedback code sheet and contributing to this tip.



Hardison, J. (23 September 2013). 36 codes, an OWL, a pitch counter, and a headset: Nontradtitional tools for nontraditional feedback. Getting Smart Blog post, 

Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.  


1/27/15 cma