Feedback: What Does Yours Mean?

Submitted by Lauren Hamilton on Tue, 08/24/2021 - 14:11

So, I could be getting a bit ahead of myself here, but feedback is probably the most useful aspect of your studies (I know, probably too enthusiastic, but stick with me). Submitting your work and receiving feedback can seem like a scary process at first, but it will highlight your strengths and more importantly, areas that you may need to work on - something that is hugely important for you as a writer. After all, we are all here to develop our academic voice, aren’t we?! 

That being said, it is not uncommon to receive feedback that you don’t totally understand, or that seems a bit vague at first glance. So, in an attempt to tackle the confusion, here are some of the most common feedback phrases and what they mean. You can thank me later.  


“More analysis needed/Too descriptive” 

Don’t panic - This is very common, and suggests that you have done too much description, and have not fully explored the meaning of the texts. For example, you might have done a lot of reading, but just written out what the various texts say without examining the writers’ strengths and weaknesses. Or maybe you have described the reasons for something without addressing alternative explanations or considering how they may be flawed. Of course, you need to describe to show that you have understood the facts, but you also need to analyse! Doing so shows that you understand what the facts do - and do not - mean.  


“Disorganised/ Unclear structure or flow” 

This is another common criticism. Try not to take it too personally - it’s common for student work to jump from topic to topic, especially if the assessment was written over the course of several weeks. To avoid this, always make sure that you plan your essay and look at your structure with a critical eye. Does it make sense? Do the ideas flow? Try to imagine you’re reading your assignment for the first time – can you follow your own argument? Also, make sure that you use words and phrases like “another argument in support of... is…” This will help guide your reader through your assessment. You might want to use the PEEL technique to help you here. If we have ever had a 1-2-1 session, or if you’ve attended one of my workshops, then you will know that I am this technique’s BIGGEST fan. Just in case you have forgotten, this trusty acronym stands for Point, Explain, Evidence, Link.  


“Poor English” 

Correct grammar matters at university. It is kind of a biggie. Make sure that you understand the rules for punctuation, especially commas and apostrophes. Also, probably the biggest rule in academic writing - no text speech! Make sure you write in an academic style that reflects the academic literature you are drawing upon. Remember that the point of academic writing is clarity, so don’t clutter your writing with unnecessarily showy vocabulary.  Again, make sure you write in full sentences… and full paragraphs (here is that PEEL technique again). Proofread your work carefully before you submit it. 


"Lacks originality" 

This criticism may have two meanings; the first is connected to plagiarism (copying the words of others and pretending that they are your own), and the lecturer may be highlighting poor paraphrasing and summarising skills.  The second (and more likely meaning) is that you haven't used your sources logically and creatively to build your own argument. You have simply listed, summarised, described or presented evidence, without combining it to create a convincing argument which drives your thesis forward. In other words, your own academic voice is drowned out by a mishmash of other academic voices that don't seem to be working together without a clear logical purpose. Make sure your line of argument is clear throughout and use your references to enhance that! 

Finally, remember that all feedback is constructive (even the most critical!). Never take your feedback to heart, instead, try to see it as your critical friend to help you develop. Take your tutor’s advice and use it to build on your academic skills and improve for your next assignment. Remember, academic writing is a journey and a process. You are not expected to write perfectly first time. 

I hope this helps and remember; you’ve got this!