When doing a think-aloud response:
*Take the student’s work seriously, but maintain a respectful, even lighthearted, tone. Students should get the sense that you are an advocate, not a critic! Remember that students are usually novices at the many kinds of writing they are asked to produce in college, and they may have little understanding of the conventions and expectations associated with specific kinds of writing. Be forthcoming, but kind.
*While you offer the view of an experienced reader, emphasize that your comments represent your individual perspective. This will help students see your feedback as complementing, not competing with, what they learn in class.
*Avoid commenting on occasional errors in grammar, punctuation , and so on. If a paper has frequent errors, let the student know how that affects you as a reader: Are you confused? Annoyed? Doubtful of the writers command of the material? And if you see a pattern of error, let the student know that he or she should consider getting some help with that particular issue.
*Don’t use up your valuable time reworking students’ prose for them. It’s useful to point out examples of sentences that have grammatical problems, that are overly complicated, and so on; but leave the work of figuring out how to revise the prose to the student.
*Be specific in your comments. Rather than, “I don’t understand this passage,” try to describe your confusion: “I’m not sure if you mean X, Y or Z here,” or “I don’t know what these acronyms stand for,” or “I’m not following the logic of your argument here.”
*Comment not only on how the student expresses ideas, but also on the ideas themselves. Students need to know whether or not you can understand what they’ve written, but also whether you find their ideas, claims and inferences interesting and compelling. Even the most elegant prose shouldn’t compensate for boring passages or unsubstantiated claims, and even students who struggle with their prose need to hear your comments on the other dimensions of their writing.