University of Wisconsin–Madison

GLOBAL AND LOCAL CONCERNS IN STUDENT WRITING: EMPHASIZING THE RIGHT THING AT THE RIGHT TIME

Brad Hughes, Writing Across the Curriculum

A key principle for teaching writing:

Research shows that students are often confused by what we—their writing teachers—want them to concentrate on in their writing and in their revisions. They may think, for example, that correcting semicolon mistakes is as important as anticipating and addressing counter-arguments or clarifying or strengthening the main point of their paper. And our comments on their writing too often lead students to make only superficial revisions to words and sentences, overlooking larger conceptual, rhetorical, and structural revisions that would most improve a paper. So as we design writing assignments, talk with our students about their writing, develop evaluation criteria, offer advice about revisions, and comment on and evaluate our students’ final papers, we need to find ways to communicate clearly with students about different levels of revision and about priorities for their writing and revising.

We can help signal priorities if we clearly differentiate between global and local writing concerns. In our assignments, comments, conferences, and evaluation criteria, we can help students by focusing first on conceptual- and structural-level planning and revisions before grammatical- and lexical-level revisions. By no means am I advocating that we ignore language problems in our students’ writing. Rather, I’m urging us to start our assignments, comments, and conferences by focusing on global writing concerns particular to that assignment—so that we and our students don’t overlook those; so that students get clear guidance from us about how to strengthen their ideas, their analyses, and their arguments; and so that students have papers worth editing and polishing. Then we can turn our attention—and our students’—to improving sentences, words, and punctuation.

Global Writing Concerns (GLOCs)

In the assignment, in comments, in discussions with students, and in evaluation criteria, focus first on whole-text issues such as ideas or content, focus, genre, argument, thesis, development, organization, clarity of purpose, awareness of audience. Asking questions like these can help us focus on this level:

  • Does the draft respond specifically and appropriately to the conceptual demands of the assignment?

  • Does the writer demonstrate a good understanding of the readings (data, field observations, lab experiment…) that s/he’s writing about?

  • Does the writer have something worth saying? Does the draft make points appropriately sophisticated (original, interesting, provocative . . .) for the assignment, the level of the course, etc.?

  • Does the draft have clear main points?

  • Does the draft match or fulfill the writer’s intentions?

  • Does the draft do justice to the writer’s ideas?

  • Is the draft effectively organized? Does it follow a logical sequence of points?

  • Are points adequately developed and explained?

  • Is there appropriate and sufficient evidence to support the main points?

  • Does the introduction effectively signal the topic, scope, and organization of the paper?

  • Are paragraphs unified and well developed

 

Local Writing Concerns (LOCs)

Then focus on more local concerns at the paragraph, sentence, and word levels:

  • Are there effective transitions between sections?

  • How can the style be improved?

  • Where do sentence or word problems interfere with the writer’s communicating clearly with readers? Or where are there muddy or confusing sentences?

  • Are there any grammatical errors?

  • How can the word choice be improved?

  • Are there punctuation errors?

  • Are there proofreading mistakes?