Liz Austen Cathy Malone


This research paper explores a sample of written summative feedback which was provided to undergraduate social science based students in 2014-2015.   A series of focus groups were facilitated where students evaluated 95 pieces of individual written feedback and discussed their findings.  Texts were scored, ranked and used to create mini corpora of high and low ranking feedback.  A contrastive analysis examined frequency counts, keyword analyses as well as concordances, collocations and semantic analyses. This analysis was supported by student annotations of their evaluations and thematic coding of the verbal discussions which took place.

This research has been able to outline the characteristics of feedback which students in this sample judged to be effective - specific praise, clarity and completeness, forward orientation, interpersonal positioning and clear and error free text. The contrastive analysis brought the metadiscoursal features strongly into focus, with distinct linguistic patterns emerging in the use of modals, personal pronouns and the mitigation of criticism. Findings confirmed the highly interpersonal nature of academic feedback and students demonstrated particular sensitivity to the tenor of the feedback and the way criticism was incorporated. There were also distinct preferences concerning the length and presentation of text, the quality of praise, and whether it contained a forward orientation.