How to do a “think-aloud response”

The best way to get a feel for this kind of feedback is to listen to examples.

To do a “think-aloud response”, go through the paper (or portion of the paper) point-by-point in real-time with the student, sharing your thoughts and allowing the student to ask questions in response. You might remark, for example, on matters of content, persuasion, or structure: What do you take to be the author’s main points? Where do you find the author’s argument compelling and where are you skeptical? Where are you interested and where do you get bored,or distracted? Where are you satisfied and where do you need more? You may also respond to stylistic or syntactic features of the prose: Is the tone on target or inappropriate? Is a passage easy to follow, or do you have difficulty understanding what you’re reading? Is the writing well-suited for you as a reader–or do you get either bogged down in jargon  or frustrated by explanations of things you already know? And so on. Essentially, your task as a reader is to take the author’s work seriously and to try your best to express your reactions and struggles out loud.

Note: In many kinds of writing, figures, tables or other illustrations are a crucial component of the document, and students need to know how to do these well too.  If the document you are reviewing has such exhibits, be sure to think-aloud on those as well!  Let the student hear you trying to interpret a diagram or figure out what you’re supposed to get from a table.


We think that 20-30 minutes of “think-aloud response” is usually enough of that kind of information for one draft or section of a paper.  So if the draft you are reviewing is only 2-3 pages, you can do a think-aloud for the whole thing.  For longer documents, divide your feedback between “think-aloud response” and written comments (email or “Insert Comment” feature in Word).  People who give real-time comments tend to give richer, more nuanced feedback and find that it’s less laborious.

  • For longer single section documents or essays: Get as far as you can doing a think-aloud response for 20-30 minutes or so.  Then cover the rest in written comments.
  • For multiple-section drafts: Decide (in consultation with the student) which parts would be most valuable or most appropriate for a “think-aloud response.”  (For example, in a scientific report, think-aloud usually works well for introductions, but is sometimes less effective for the Methods section.)

For useful tips, click here.