This post from the Skills Team (check out the Skills Blog) can be read as part two of last week’s ‘using your feedback’ post on the in-text comments. This time, the focus is on summative feedback.

Summative feedback is the longer feedback that comes at the end of your assignment or on the cover sheet (rather than in the margins or as in-text comments). It tends to include comments about the overall assignment or issues that are occurring several times within an assignment. Below we give some advice on how to deal with some regular issues that we see during our personal appointments.


Summative feedback comments and what they can mean

Comment(s):

  • Fails to answer the question
  • Off topic

What it can mean:

You have done one of several things:

  1. Misinterpreted the essay command word (Discuss, analyse, evaluate etc)
  2. Written about the general topic but not focused on the specific aspect required
  3. Written relevant material but not explained how this links to the specific question

What you need to do:

  1. Check out this document which explains what the different command words mean: Key Words Glossary.
  2. Most essay questions (or learning objectives) do not ask you to write about everything you know on a topic – they ask you to focus on a specific aspect and direct your answer accordingly. Make sure you identify this as your focus and write about it when you are explaining your evidence and examples.
  3. Use TEAL paragraph structure and ensure you explain the link to the specific question in either the topic, analysis or link.

Comment(s):

  • No flow

What it can mean:

You are not guiding your reader from paragraph to paragraph or explaining your overall argument

What you need to do:

Use TEAL paragraphs (see link above) and use the ‘link’ element to help your reader see the connection between that paragraph and either the next paragraph or your overall argument.

Give your reader clear signposts about how your argument is developing. These are words like ‘furthermore’, ‘conversely’ etc that show how one part of your argument relates to another.


Comment(s):

  • Poor sentence structure throughout

What it can mean:

You are making some fundamental errors in your writing. These could relate to punctuation, sentence structure and or academic writing style.

What you need to do:

Look at the Skills Team grammar resource where there are pages that cover all of these issues. Identify your weakness and use the pages and quizzes to strengthen these. Adjusting the grammar checking settings in Microsoft Word to look for ‘grammar & style’ will also spot some additional errors – just make sure you don’t rely on it! 


Comment(s):

  • Poor overall argument
  • Too descriptive

What it can mean:

You have not explained to the reader what your answer to the overall question is. You may have made some excellent points but these may be too descriptive or you may not have linked them together to obviously lead to your conclusion.

What you need to do:

To answer an essay question with a strong argument you need to balance your description and analysis within each paragraph and tie all of these together into a cohesive overall argument. This is what we mean by critical writing and starts with Analysing and evaluating arguments in the literature. Recognising, analysing and evaluating the work of others enables you to develop your own. (See our guide on Developing your own arguments.)


If you want any further help on understanding your feedback then you can make an appointment with a member of the Skills Team.