Comments on essays: Do students understand what tutors write?

This paper looks at the problem of students misunderstanding what tutors write on their essays. Students often consult academic skills units for help with interpreting markers' comments, and this study sought to gauge how widespread such confusion may be. Students and tutors in selected Humanities subjects were asked what they thought was meant by a common marking comment -- "Too much description; not enough analysis" -- to discover how far their understandings coincided. Almost half of the students who responded did not interpret this comment in the way their tutors intended it. The paper discusses possible reasons for this discrepancy, including ambiguities in the term "analysis" and differences in its meaning for different disciplines. It concludes that marking comments need to be carefully explained with examples from the discourse of lectures, tutorials, and readings in the disciplines.

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Kate Chanock
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Teaching in Higher Education, 5 (1), 95-106
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