Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology

Managing the Paper Load

Asking students to write more frequently creates more papers, but this doesn’t have to mean more work than is required for a traditional class. The key goal is to know when it is most effective for you, the instructor, to comment on student writing, and how best to maximize your use of that time. Here are some helpful practices and guidelines developed by writing teachers across grade and content areas.

Do not read and comment on everything students write. For low stakes writing, it is appropriate to provide only brief comments, or to have students give each other feedback, or even to read only a representative selection from a whole set and to use these as the basis for oral comment in class. The following kinds of writing assignments require very little to moderate instructor time, while providing great benefit to student writers:

Almost no Time – Free-writes, Brainstorms, Mind Maps and other Invention Strategies

Minimal Time – Thesis Workshops, collected in-class writing, some types of journals

Moderate Time – Journals and blogs read for quality, discussion boards

Be Aware of Grade Blindness. Research shows that many of the comments written on student papers never get read, especially when they are accompanied by a grade. Comments made on end-of-the-term papers and projects are even less likely to be read meaningfully by students. To save time while still providing important support for student writing, consider using a rubric or holistic-grading criteria. When introduced at the beginning of the assignment, grading criteria serve as a teaching aid as well as a summative assessment tool. Read more about rubrics and holistic grading criteria on our Grading Writing page.

Focus on Facilitative Feedback. Instructor comments are most effective on drafts that provide specific feedback on matters that have been previously taught, have been practiced in the course, and are strongly related to key course learning objectives (Hillocks 168). The best time for the instructor to comment on student writing is in a late-draft stage because those comments can facilitate revision. A few sentences of praise for what works, followed by a question or two that can prompt revision, takes less time and produces better results. Our Responding to Student Writing page provides more information on effective feedback.

Be highly selective about marking sentence-level errors. Correcting mistakes requires much time while helping students very little. Studies have consistently shown that time spent correcting grammar is largely wasted because it prevents students from learning the conventions through their own proofreading. Studies also show that when instructors focus on sentence-level mistakes, they tend to neglect more important content-oriented comments. See our Dealing with Student Error page for strategies. 

Develop a consistent strategy for responding to and evaluating student writing. A consistent strategy (or two) keeps you focused, saves time, and allows for clearer communication with students. See our Responding to Student Writing page for specific strategies.

Useful Sources:

Bean, John. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996.

Speck, B. Grading Students' Classroom Writing: Issues and Strategies. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000.


Related Content

Teaching Resources

Teaching Resources

CTLT Workshops

Want to learn more?




Cal Poly Canvas...

Learn More


Diversity & Inclusion in the Classroom.

More about inclusion


​Writing across the curriculum.

Writing Matters