Preface

I wrote this guide in Summer 2013, while working as the Online Coordinator at the Central Michigan University Writing Center. The purpose of this guide was to explain practices and examples for new consultants in asynchronous online training.


Introductory Comments

Introductory comments should be the very first comment in every online. They should be made next to the student’s name, whether it is on a title page or at the top of the first page. If the student’s name is not given, then the introductory comment should be made on the first word in the paper.

Introductory comments should do the following:

  1. Greet the student by name.
  2. Introduce you as the consultant.
  3. Repeat the areas that the student wants help with (located on the online form).
  4. Begin the session, with a phrase such as “Let’s get started.”

Hello, Christopher,

My name is Dan, and I will be working with your paper today. I see that you want help with grammar and APA standards. I’ll keep that in mind as I look over your paper.

Let’s get started!

Hello there, Derrick!

My name is Jennifer, and I’ll be looking at your paper today! 🙂

I noticed you asked for specific help regarding clarity, APA format, and the organization of your paper. I’ll be sure to look for those areas in particular as I read through.

Shall we begin?

Ending Comments

Ending comments should be the last comment in a paper. For example, if suggestions are made on the References/Works Cited page, the ending comment should be placed after these comments.

Ending comments should do the following:

  1. Greet the student by name.
  2. Compliment the student on the paper as a whole or on specific aspects of the paper.
  3. Summarize the overall suggestions given within the paper.
  4. End the session, either by thanking the student for submitting, wishing her luck with her future writing, telling her to have a good day, and/or encouraging her to resubmit after revision.
  5. Sign your name.

Hello again, David, 🙂

I like the development of ideas in this chapter because the detail really helps the reader to understand the complexity of these issues. The next step in the revisions of this proposal would be to organize these ideas so the introduction paragraphs prepare the audience for what they are about to read, as well as explain the connections between them. I can’t stress enough how helpful transition sentences at the beginning of paragraphs can be, especially in longer pieces, such as this one.

Have a great day, and good luck with your future writing.

-John

Tony, this was a very interesting read! You raised interesting and valid points, and I found myself legitimately fascinated by what you were writing about! I only have a few overall notes:

Typically with MSA classes, the format standard is APA, and I noticed that this paper does not follow those standards. I would suggest checking with the instructor regarding whether or not it is necessary. There are also some issues regarding word choice and grammar, but they are all quick fixes. I recommend looking at my explanations for future use.

Once considering and applying my comments, you are more than welcome to resubmit! It was a pleasure reading your work. Have a good day and happy writing!

-Emma

In 50 minutes, we can usually manage about 10 pages or 50 comments (whichever comes first). But if a paper is longer, we will need to stop commenting after these 50 minutes. In this case, the ending comment should make clear that sessions are only 50 minutes and that the student can resubmit for the additional pages, after she has applied and deleted previous comments.

Thank you for submitting your paper today, Cameron! Unfortunately, this is as far as I was able to get within this 50-minute session. However, feel free to resubmit for additional reviews once revisions have been made.

Overall, I felt as though the paper was clear and easy to read throughout! I would just suggest taking a look at a couple APA and Plan B-related aspects, such as use of citations and overall format, and apply those to the remainder of the paper. I would also suggest taking a look at some of the grammatical comments I made as those may impact the clarity of the piece as well.  

I hope these comments help! Have a great day and thanks again for submitting to the CMU Writing Center!

Ashley 🙂

Focus

The main challenge of online consulting is focusing our comments when the student is not present. We cannot comment on every issue or have walls of comments on every page, as this would both overwhelm the student and take too much of our time. For this reason, we must decide how to best focus our feedback for that particular student. On the online form, students will indicate what they would like help with. We also need to pay attention to which aspect of the writing stage the student is in. An early draft, for example, should not receive a focus on grammar and surface-level issues, unless they are too distracting to decipher meaning. In this case, we would provide feedback on the large grammar issues that are impacting clarity or meaning.

Most sessions should include both global-level and surface-level comments. Deciding which area receives the focus of the session will depend on the students and their writing stage.

Global-Level Issues

Global-level issues should always be commented on when they are present, even if the student only asked for help with grammar. Keep in mind that many students often ask for help with grammar as a default, because they do not know how else to improve or what else makes effective writing.

Global-level issues should be the focus of papers in the Just Getting Started, Early Draft, and Revised Draft stages.

Global-level issues include the following areas:

Clarity

I’m a bit confused by what this is trying to get at. What was it assessing? How? These sound like categories on how well you listened…but I don’t feel like I have enough context here to fully understand this.

Introduction/Conclusion

Was this mentioned earlier in the essay? A conclusion should not include new information, but it can recommend solutions and sum up what was discussed earlier.

Thesis Statement

I’m reading this as being more or less the thesis of the paper. Although this starts to get at the purpose for the paper, it sounds like the goal of the essay is to focus on you as a communicator. I think it would strengthen the thesis to find a way to make it more personal to you and your communication style.

Argument Support

I feel like this point could be debated. What if the family situation is toxic? More details and/or a source might help convince your reader.

Contradictions or Illogical Points

I don’t know if this is necessarily hypocritical. Culture changes over time, and those who reject bugs now were not the same individuals or of the same culture as those who ate bugs in the past.

I’m not sure how leadership can have feelings. A person can have feelings, but a characteristic or quality of a person cannot have feelings.

Organization

I might consider rearranging some parts of the essay so that the reader can follow the ideas more clearly. What if the paper started off with a paragraph defining the different types of communication? You could even maybe discuss how you identified as a communicator before taking the tests. Then, the next paragraph could start off by describing the test briefly, then discussing your results and what that means for you as a communicator, and then doing the same for the other tests. Of course, there are multiple ways to organize a paper like this, but this is just one suggestion that I think would help guide the reader through the process.

Transitions

This seems like a transition into the next idea. Generally, I have found transitions often work best as the first sentence of the paragraph introducing a new idea instead of the last sentence of the previous paragraph.

Repetition

A lot of these sentences start out with “Child Protective Services,” making the sentence structure a little repetitive. Restructuring sentences could help with the flow of the paragraph.

Proper Citation

Where did this information come from? According to APA, anything that is not general knowledge needs to be cited with the author’s last name and year, like this:

Smith (2009) or

(Smith, 2009)

For more information on APA citations, check out Purdue OWL: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/02/

Surface-Level Issues

Surface-level issues are the focus of a session when the student is in the Nearly Done/Ready to Edit stage and has requested help with grammar. They can also be a focus when there are few to no global issues present. If a student requests help with grammar in an earlier draft and/or her paper has many global-level issues, surface-level comments should be limited to major grammar mistakes that impact clarity or understanding, such as comma splices and run-on sentences.

The amount of focus we give to grammar and sentence-level issues also depends on the student’s grade level. In graduate-level essays and masters theses, higher grammar standards are expected than in undergraduate work. Students in ENG 101, for example, receive regular peer review as part of their course, so grammar should be a low-order concern when responding to these papers.

Surface-level issues include the following areas:

Grammar

“There” refers to a place, whereas “their” suggests ownership. This should be “their.”

Punctuation

This is a comma splice, which is when two completed sentences are separated only by a comma. There are three ways to correct a comma splice:

(1) Include a conjunction after the comma (and, but, or, so)

(2) Change the comma to a semi-colon (;)

(3) Change the comma to a period

For some additional brush-up on general comma usage, visit the following webpage: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/607/01/

Capitalization

Since these words are not proper nouns, you don’t need to capitalize them.

Word Choice

I would suggest not using the words “can” and “actually” because the word “can” makes the thesis sound less direct and the word “actually” makes it sound a bit biased.

Style

Because this isn’t referring to a specific published version of the Bible, it does not need to be italicized.

Language Choice

Language in an online session is separated from our personality, facial expressions, and voice tone. Therefore, we must consider our language choices more strictly than we would in a face-to-face session. It is easy for our comments to be taken in a way we did not intend. We should keep specific areas in mind when working online.

Verb Choice

When giving suggestions, our verb choice should depend on the meaning we want to convey. If our comment is a suggestion that the student can take or leave, we should use the modals “might” or “could” in front of our verbs.

You might make this point later, when you state that chocolate is small and inexpensive. Right now, this sentence is acting as a topic sentence, and this paragraph is centered around gift giving, not Iraqis loving chocolate.

You could combine these paragraphs because they explore the same topic.

We can also use the main verbs “consider,” “think,” and “recommend” to show that our comments are only suggestions.

There are a lot of short sentences here, which can make a paper sound choppy. I recommend adding information or trying to connect sentences together to fix this.

When commenting on standards that have to be followed, such as citation format, we can use the modals “would,” “should,” and “must” before our verbs. We can also use the main verbs “need” or “require.” These stronger words imply that the student does not have a choice, for instance, whether to cite a passage or not: it must be done.

Did this information come from another source? If so, citations must be used to give proper credit to these authors.

APA requires the Running head to be a shortened version of the title.

A comma is needed between a phrase that cannot stand on its own as a sentence and a phrase that can stand on its own as a sentence.

An example of a phrase that cannot stand on its own as a sentence can be seen below:

“After visiting my favorite hockey team…”

Complete Sentences

When commenting on surface-level issues, it is tempting to simply state “delete” or “omit.” However, to be more personal and to maintain a learning component, we should use complete sentences instead. Sentences also allow us to give reasoning for our suggestions, which will help the student to apply feedback to other parts of the paper.

Ineffective

Delete.

Effective

You could delete this phrase here in order to be more concise.

Exclamation Marks/All Caps

Exclamation marks can be used in compliments or introductory comments to show enthusiasm and friendliness.

This is a nicely worded sentence here! 🙂

Exclamation marks and all caps should be avoided, however, when we are giving suggestions for improvement. In this context, it may seem as though we are yelling at the student.

Ineffective

Good use of an outside source, but a citation is needed here! Since you used his name already, all you need is a page number in the parenthesis at the end. Remember what I said earlier about punctuation too!!

Before reading this paragraph, I can already say that it needs to be broken up for the reader. It is HUGE!

Humor

Humor is a great way to show our personalities and be friendly, but it can be easily misconstrued online without the consultant’s voice. Humor online is often interpreted as sarcasm and is best avoided in online work.

Ineffective

Is Negro actually this author’s last name?

Effective

Either one too many 9’s in this date here, or this author has a time machine. 🙂

You could use “prospects” if this is a reference to the two entrepreneurs as business clients. “Prospectors” kind of makes me think of old guys digging for gold!

Negative/Harsh Words

Words that are harsh or negative in nature are often taken as offensive and can hurt the student’s feelings. In most cases, this means removing extra adverbs that show extremes and place emphasis when it is unnecessary.

Ineffective

This sentence transition feels very repetitive to me with the same phrase on either end of the period. Consider revising?

You should strongly consider reworking this sentence. I reread it a few times, and I still am having trouble making sense of it. Perhaps consider splitting it into two sentences?

Effective

This sentence transition feels repetitive to me with the same phrase on either end of the period. Consider revising?

You could consider reworking this sentence. I reread it a few times, and I still am having trouble making sense of it. Perhaps consider splitting it into two sentences?

Some words also contain stronger emotions than others. For instance, “problems” has a negative connotation.

Ineffective

This paper demonstrated knowledge for the topic and presented some interesting ideas about the article. There were some consistent problems with sentence clarity and flow of ideas. Reading the paper out loud may be helpful in catching unclear sentences and sorting out thoughts.

Effective

This paper demonstrated knowledge for the topic and presented some interesting ideas about the article. I have made a few comments on sentence clarity and flow of ideas. Reading the paper out loud may be helpful in catching unclear sentences and sorting out thoughts.

Evaluation

Evaluative words like “good,” “great,” or “excellent” place the students or their papers on a scale and is similar to grading. Instead of saying “good job,” we can be more specific and say how a specific aspect of their paper is effective.

Ineffective

I really like the connection between Columbia’s system and that of the U.S. Good job!

Effective

I really like the connection between Columbia’s system and that of the U.S. It gives the reader an easy way to make big connections.

Clarity

In online sessions, comments should be written to optimize clarity for students because they do not have the opportunity to ask questions if they are confused or unsure of how suggestions should be implemented.

It is imperative to give examples in online consulting to give a visual aid, which can supplement surface-level suggestions particularly. These examples can either rephrase the student’s actual sentence or create a new sentence that illustrates the same rule or idea.

These sentences depend on one another, so I would suggest combining the two. An example might read something like this:

“College football scouts focus their attention on middle school and high school students between the ages of 12-18.”

When referencing a word or phrase from the student’s paper, it should be offset with quotation marks to be clear.

The word “as” at the beginning of the sentence makes this sentence incomplete. It’s similar to the sentence listed below:

“As I went to the store…”

Here’s a way to make this example sentence complete:

“As I went to the store, I turned up the music in my car.”

In order to help the student as much as possible and to build our credibility as consultants, we should proofread our comments for spelling and grammar errors and make sure our thoughts have been completed.

Ineffective

This is an introductary phrase, therefore, the grammar suggets a comma should be placed after “programs”.

This line sounds like your actual thesis statement. If the purpose of the paper is to gather support for a KI facility in Hawaii, I would make sure to

Friendliness

Interacting with the Text

Interacting with the student’s topics and ideas is an effective way of appearing engaged in the student’s writing and mimicking a face-to-face conversation.

This is really interesting!

That is so true!

Giving Compliments/Praise

Students should receive room to feel good about their writing, in addition to the many suggestions for improvement they will receive. Students should be given at least one genuine compliment within the paper. We should be positive and let students know what was effective in their paper.

I understood what the article was about by just reading the summary. I think the ideas in this section are pretty well organized.

I like this statement in the opening of your background paragraph because it presents the problem, without giving a personal opinion. Thus, it keeps the paper from sounding biased from the beginning, but is still focused and clear.

Compliments can act as a buffer for a suggestion.

I love the detail you provided in this section because it helped me understand what some specific problems there are with a vegan diet. In some of the sections before and after this section, I think you could add more specific examples about the pro and cons of vegan diets and decrease some of the vague explanations about the pros and cons. This would help me understand how the sources back up your opinions and the opinions of the sources.

The organization of this paragraph is done well, in that it presents a general topic at the beginning and then provides specific information that all relates back to the topic sentence. Additionally, each paragraph is presented in logical sequential order. This might be a model for how to organize other ideas into paragraphs.

Compliments are also an effective filler if we can’t find any global- or surface-level issues to comment on. In this situation, the student must be doing something right, and compliments help reinforce this. We should never leave a page without any comments because this may imply to the student that we did not read that page or were merely skimming.

However, our compliments should be on something the student chose to do, not something they had to do per required format.

Ineffective

 I like the title page!

I liked how you included the organization, date, title, and URL. I also like how you formatted this citation with a hanging indent! =)

Using Emoticons

Because the student cannot see our facial expressions or tone of voice in online consultations, smiley faces can be used to show a friendly personality. Many times these are associated with giving compliments.

 This is a good transition here. 🙂

Emoticons can also be used to lighten a suggestion

Whoops! Space is needed here 🙂

Techniques

Asking Questions

A great way to show that you are confused or that the student needs elaboration is to ask questions. Questions are most effective when they are open-ended.

What is the purpose of this research? What are the benefits to finding out ways to manage generational diversity in the workplace?

Questions can also show if the student has made a contradiction.

I thought that Generation X would be their parents?

We can also ask indirect questions to make students find their own solutions to issues in the paper, rather than allowing them to be dependent on our feedback:

This sounds like a new idea is being brought in. While the rest of the paragraph seems like it is discussing how a generation is formed and how they share commonalities, this quotation is trying to make the point that they still retain individuality. Is there somewhere in this paper that this quotation would fit better?

Instead of just going straight into the next term, is there a way these two ideas could be connected?

Providing Explanation

We should let students know the purpose behind our suggestions so they can look for further instances and apply feedback throughout the paper.

I’m thinking that these sentences could pretty easily be integrated into the paragraph above—because they focus on the same source, you don’t need to start a new paragraph.

Addressing Repeated Issues

If you comment on the same issue more than once, each comment should be worded differently. However, for incorrect grammar or citation format, we can encourage students to find further instances on their own: this will both benefit students’ learning and save our time when responding to the paper. If you think the student may have difficulty finding these issues on their own, such as incorrect tense, you can use the highlighting feature (rather than comments) to point out additional cases.

When proofreading the final draft, watch for incorrect and omitted words throughout this paper. They are often hard to catch, but reading slowly word for word will help to find them.

I will try to highlight these as they come up.

Referring to Readership

One way to stress the importance of a suggestion is to give our suggestion from a reader’s perspective and describe ourselves as readers. We can also explain how a change will benefit readers in general.

As a reader, this transition gives me the idea that there is another reason after this one. If there isn’t, a different transition word could be used instead, such as “also.”

Giving Resources

Giving students resources to use helps them by providing visual examples of information we have explained so they can double-check themselves after they have made our suggested changes and look for answers to additional questions they may have. The Writing Center website offers Quick Guides and PowerPoint presentations. The Purdue OWL is also a source frequently recommended to students.

Interviews are cited only in-text and are not mentioned on the References page. Further explanation can be seen at the Purdue OWL: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/11/

Grammar

We should always explain why punctuation should be added or omitted or why something is grammatically incorrect. If there is a rule or standard behind our grammar suggestions, this should be explained to the student so she can learn and apply it in future papers. Example sentences provide visuals and further clarity.

Ineffective

A comma is needed here.

Effective

Whenever words like “and” combine two complete sentences, they need to be preceded by a comma. For example, “I love olives, and I went to the store to buy some.”

When grammar issues are addressed, it is important that these suggestions are not only clear but also correct. In addition, it is not necessary to use grammatical terms that the student would be unfamiliar with. Grammar terms that are safe to use include “clause,” “noun,” “subject,” “verb,” “adjective,” and “adverb.” Other aspects of grammar should be explained in basic terms whenever possible. The student does not always need to know vocabulary to apply a rule.

Incorrect Information

A comma is needed here because the part before the comma is a dependent clause, and the part after it is an independent clause. Whenever a dependent and independent clause are combined, they are connected with a comma or one of the FANBOYS (For, And, Nor, Bu, Or, Yet, Or, So).

Correct Information

A comma is needed here because the part before the comma is a dependent, introductory clause that precedes the main sentence. The comma makes it clear where the introductory clause ends and the main sentence begins.

Citations

Addressing citations is essential, even if the student did not specifically ask for assistance in this area. Issues such as improper citation, missing citations, and copying and pasting occur in all levels of online work, even graduate-level papers and masters theses. As a result, it is very important that we point out these issues without placing blame on students or accusing them of plagiarism. The word “plagiarism” carries a heavy weight and should be used sparingly.

Improper Citation/Format

We should examine title/beginning pages, headers, headings, and in-text citations to determine they are correct according to that style, even if the student did not request help in that area. It is still important the students follow format guidelines.

APA format for showing page numbers is as follows:

(p. 418)

We should also make comments on the References/Works Cited pages, especially if the student requested help with citation style. You are not responsible for visiting or finding each source, but you can give general comments if information/punctuation is missing or misplaced or if style has not been followed.

In article, book, and web page titles, only the first word of the title, the first word of the subtitle, and proper nouns are capitalized. Journal titles are the only titles in APA that are completely capitalized.

Missing Citations

When it is clear that the student is taking information from a source, we should double-check that citations are present. If they are not, this needs to be commented on. We should ask the student if this information came from another source. We cannot assume that it did. It is possible that the student has a background in this area and discussed the information from memory. Along with stating that citations would be needed for information from a source, we should explain the purpose and benefit of citations. We can also give them a link to the Purdue OWL if it seems they do not understand what in-text citations should look like. Please note that we should avoid using the word “plagiarism” unless the student has copied and pasted, which is the most extreme case. Missing citations could instead be addressed in the following ways:

A great deal of the information in the first few paragraphs sounds like it could have been taken from an outside source, and not just personal knowledge. If this is the case, then it should be cited.

Concerning the first sections that provide background information, I suggest looking at APA guidelines. Anything that is taken from an outside source needs to be cited. This is not just to properly cite sources, but to establish your credibility as an author.

Copying and Pasting

Many times students will copy and paste directly from sources. Sometimes these sentences have citations, and sometimes they do not. Online consulting makes it easier to catch copying and pasting because we can double-check without the student being present.

When sentences do not have citations or the tone of voice and writing level seems to change, we should copy and paste these sentences into Google to discover whether this information has come word for word from a source. If information has been plagiarized, the entire sentence you pasted into Google will be bolded within the summary of the source. It is best to copy and paste only one sentence at a time, because the student may have copied and pasted separate sentences from separate sources, and they will not all “hit” at the same time.

Only in this situation can the word “plagiarism” be used, but only once and after the issue of copying and pasting has occurred and been addressed multiple times.

If the issue of copying and pasting repeats or is consistent, it should be addressed in several steps using separate comments. If an entire paragraph is copied and pasted, one comment should be given for the entire paragraph and count as one occurrence of copying and pasting. The following comments are pre-written templates that can be found in the Online Comments document.

We need to tell the student when we have found a sentence or phrase that is closely worded to an onine source. We should not use the words “copied and pasted” because this would directly accuse the student of plagiarism. The student should be told how to fix this situation.

This sentence is closely worded to that of an online source.

Exact words cannot be taken from a source and claimed to be someone else’s. There are two steps that should be taken here:

1. These words either need to be drastically rephrased or they need to be placed in quotation marks.

2. This sentence needs a citation to show where this information came from.

The Purdue OWL has great explanations for what in-text citations should look like: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/02/

If the student is using citations, she needs to be informed that using an outside source correctly involves more than just in-text citations.

A citation is not enough to cover this information, because without quotation marks, the reader will not know who originally wrote this sentence.

We should then explain how to paraphrase correctly.

Changing, moving, or omitting a few words does not count as paraphrasing because the same sentence structure and/or word choices as the original source are still being used. Paraphrasing involves drastically rewording and combining information into brand new sentences that reflect a different writing voice and style.

The Purdue OWL has a helpful page about paraphrasing: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/619/1/

We need to keep stressing the importance of citing and paraphrasing correctly. If we have already found and commented on at least three separate instances of copying and pasting, we should then mention that “this could be considered plagiarism.” This is the only time that the word “plagiarism” should be used in our comments. It should not be repeated or emphasized. We need to be cautious with language here to avoid directly accusing the student of plagiarism. We do not want to scare students, but we do want them to be aware of the importance of making changes in these areas.

It is really important that these sentences are drastically reworded and cited. Without taking these two steps, this could be considered plagiarism.

If copying and pasting continues after our previous comment, we can then end the session early, by stating we cannot continue to review the paper because we would be commenting on someone else’s words. We need to explain proper citing and paraphrasing to the student one more time and give them resources for further help. This comment will not act as the ending comment to the session. Another comment should be written to wrap up the session like we would normally and encourage the student to resubmit after applying changes.

I will stop commenting on the paper at this point, as commenting on someone else’s words would be inappropriate. This paper should be revised to paraphrase, quote, and cite appropriately. Then it can be resubmitted for review. During revision, ideas (paraphrasing) and words (quotations) cited from other sources should be clearly cited (example:  Taylor (2005) stated…).  When using words from other sources, specific citations and page numbers should be included (example:  Taylor (2005) stated that “….” (p. 23).

For more information on how to integrate and cite sources, helpful resources include our “Quick Guides” (https://www.cmich.edu/colleges/chsbs/Centers/WritingCenter/Pages/Resources.asp) and/or the Purdue Owl (http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/619/01/).