IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Reviewing, editing and responding to feedback

Learn how to review, edit and improve your academic writing, understanding feedback and responding to it,

Reducing the word count

Why reduce your word count? Reducing the word count lets you add more detail and content to your argument, and allows you to use more words for cohesion and transition devices. This may improve your writing overall.

Try it yourself: Look at the following text and try to reduce the word count by deleting unnecessary words. Then look at the shortened version below and compare your suggestions.

Example 'wordy' text

Original version

It can be considered as generally accepted that different teacher trainers working within the Cambridge ESOL training system may have widely differing approaches and ways of working. An illustration of possible differences can be given through a description of the way feedback is delivered during the teaching practice element of the course. As there is no information or guidance from Cambridge ESOL about how to conduct post-observation feedback, different trainers on different courses will organise this in a variety of ways. Examples of divergences in practice which I have observed include whether the trainer speaks first or lets the trainee speak first, how much and in what way the trainer expects other trainees to contribute, or whether the feedback is given directly after the lesson or the following day. As well as the range of procedural differences such as these, there is variation in the way the trainer will communicate during feedback sessions. (153 words)

Shortened version

Cambridge ESOL teacher trainers may have differing approaches, for example in their feedback practices. In the absence of post-observation feedback guidance, trainers might give feedback in a variety of ways. Examples of divergences which I have observed include whether the trainer or trainee initiates the post-observation discussion, expectations of contributions from other trainees and feedback timing. As well as procedural differences, variation in trainer communication styles during feedback sessions also exists. (70 words)

(Source: Adapted from Blackwell, J. (2009). "Jesus, Janey, why are you doing this to me!": CELTA Trainer Training and the Trainer-Trainee Relationship. UCL Institute of Education: Unpublished Masters Assignment. Adapted.)

Back to top

Responding to feedback on your writing

Understanding feedback

If you have received feedback that your writing needs to be more “academic”, it probably means one of several things.

Your writing may not use enough citation and referencing.

Your claims need to be supported by suitable references and evidence.

See also

Your writing may be too certain in its claims.

Make sure you are using suitable hedging/academic caution to protect your claims, and avoid definitive statements or generalisations.

See also

Your writing may need to express more criticality.

Academic writing aims to explore and evaluate concepts and research findings, from the point of view of adding to our knowledge of the area.

See also

Your writing may be aimed too clearly at a professional audience.

Many postgraduate students are competent writers in a professional sphere, but as a student research writer, you will need to use a different tone. As mentioned above, the aim of your writing at the Institute will often be to explore and evaluate concepts and research findings from the point of view of adding to our knowledge of this area, as a research community. This can be different from a professional context, where the aim may be to inform the audience or to recommend certain actions.

You may find that you need to write in a way that feels less authoritative and less practical than you are used to. Notice the tone of the research papers you read and the way they interact with knowledge claims. Your reading is often your best writing teacher.

Your writing may be too colloquial (too casual).

Make sure you are using formal language, and avoid colloquial phrases such as 'every coin has two sides', or 'they've been left on the scrap heap'. Take the lead from the texts you are reading, and use similar vocabulary and phrasing.

Text comparison

Compare the following two short texts, A and B. How many differences do you see in the second text? What is the function/effect/purpose of each difference?
You will probably notice that B is more "academic", but it is important to understand why.

(A) Extensive reading helps students to improve their vocabulary.

(B) Research conducted by Yen (2005) appears to indicate that, for a significant proportion of students, extensive reading may contribute to an improvement in their active vocabulary. Yen's (2005) study involved learners aged 15-16 in the UK, although it may be applicable to other groups. However, the study involved an opt-in sample, which means that the sample students may have been more 'keen', or more involved in reading already. It would be useful to see whether the findings differ in a wider sample. 

(Please note that Yen (2005) is a fictional reference used only as an example).

Further information and resources

UCL Arena Centre for Research-based Education produces a teaching toolkit guide about academic writing. This guide is also helpful for students because it concludes components of good academic writing, tips for critiquing their own and others’ writing, and both UCL and external writing resources.

Responding to Feedback

Feedback can really help, if you know how to use it. It can come from tutors or from peers.

Using Tutor Feedback

Your tutor has read your work and is trying to help you with their comments. It is worth taking the time to understand what they mean. Remember, too, that comments may apply to other parts of your assignment, even if they are only written in one place. Don't just change the places with comments and leave everything else! Try to read the whole assignment again with your tutor's eyes, and make changes to each paragraph.

Examples of tutor feedback

Here are some examples of tutors' comments on their students' writing.

  • Your writing needs to be more academic.
  • More analysis of this point is necessary.
  • You need to use more academic caution / You need to use hedging / This claim is too strong.
  • Could you clarify this point?
  • Your conclusion needs improvement.
  • Questions about the content e.g. Which school? Why not? Is this the primary role of this staff member? Who is this?
  • You need to be more critical.
  • You need to define these terms / you need a definition here.
  • You need to develop this point more. / This needs more development.
  • This needs more explanation.
  • I need a clear introduction telling me where you are going.
  • This essay needs more organisation.
  • Your paragraphs need more work.
  • I cannot see evidence of your reading.
  • This needs a reference.
  • Is this relevant?
  • This essay lacks structure. You have not addressed the title.
  • I don't follow what you mean here, can you say a bit more?/ I'm not sure I understand this.

    Using Peer Feedback

    Peer feedback can be very helpful, but remember, you need to make the final decisions yourself. Don't change anything without re-evaluating the advice for yourself. Peers can give good advice on whether the writing is readable and logical. In terms of language or written conventions, remember that they may have a different background to you, and so they may not be an expert on writing within your field.

    Examples of peer feedback questions

    To work with a peer to edit each other's writing, try asking the following questions:

    • Does this piece of work have a central idea? Is this idea apparent to the reader, or do you have to 'search' for it? Is it clear enough for you to restate in a different way?
    • Does this piece of work raise any questions that it does not answer?
    • Is there a sense of an 'argument' developing?
    • Do points - both within and beyond paragraphs - seem to follow logically? Does this whole piece hang together?
    • Why is a particular bit of information in the piece? What work is it doing for expressing the ideas of the assignment?
    • Can you understand what is written? If not, can you see why? Can you see what could be added to help you understand (e.g. an example, or a contrast?). Does the use of subject terminology seem clear and confident?

    If you have not submitted the first draft yet, make sure you use the Editing Tips first. This will help the reader to understand your writing, and so give more useful feedback. Otherwise, they may waste time pointing things out that you could have noticed yourself.

    Back to top 

    Editing tips

    Before you submit your first draft, use these questions to check and edit your writing. This will help you get much better – and more useful – feedback from the tutor.

    • Does it provide signposts to the essay for the reader?
    • Does it refer to the title?
    • Does it provide context and background information?
    • Does it indicate the argument and central idea of the essay?
    • Does it indicate the organisation and structure of the essay?
    • Does it sum up the minor arguments and the central idea?
    • Does it relate back to the introduction (including the title, background, argument and central idea)?
    • Does it start with a clear phrase so that the reader knows they have reached the end? (e.g. "in conclusion", "to conclude", "to sum up", "Overall" etc.)
    Main body – the development of the argument
    • Is each paragraph a mini-argument? (i.e. a central statement plus support/reasons/evidence).
    • Does each paragraph contribute to the main argument/central idea – how?
    • Does the main body flow logically?
    • Can you see who/why each piece of information is in that position / can you see how it relates to other sentences around it? 
    Whole Text
    • Is there a sense of a developing argument?
    • Does the introduction signpost the whole essay?
    • Does it have a satisfactory ending?
    • Has the essay actually answered the question – how do you know? Can you see a clear statement (or statements) where they have answered the question? 

    Back to top 

    Improvement action plan

    After you have worked on your draft and incorporated the tutor's feedback, develop an action plan for your next assignment. This way, you can make sure you improve your writing over the longer term, rather than simply making corrections to one piece of work.

    Action Plan Checklist

    1. Create a Word document or online space where you can store your assignment action plan.
    2. Divide your plan into sections.
    3. Add your own questions, actions to take, or things to double-check. This can be a combination of advice from the tutor and other tips you have found useful.
    4. Do not include anything you don't understand. You may not remember in detail from one assignment to the next, so make sure you give yourself examples or explanations of any unfamiliar terms.
    5. Between this assignment and the next, try to notice examples of good writing in your reading materials. The articles you are reading are examples of published writing within your discipline, which means they will be using language in an appropriate and proficient way. These writers' use of language can be your best teacher!

    Back to top

    Building vocabulary and grammar

    We recommend these external sites for vocabulary and grammar resources and exercises. Please let us know if you can recommend anything to be added here.

    Vocabulary resources (external links)


    Grammar resources (external links)


    Back to top