Feedback on Academic Essay Writing through pre-Emptive Hints: Moving Towards “Advice for Action”

Denise Whitelock, Alison Twiner, John T. E. Richardson, The Open University, United Kingdom, Debora Field, Stephen Pulman, University of Oxford, United Kingdom


This paper adopts an “advice for action” approach to feedback in educational practice: addressing how provision of “hints” to participants before they write academic essays can support their understanding and performance in essay-writing tasks. We explored differences in performance by type of hint, and whether there was a transfer of better performance in subsequent essays. Fifty participants were recruited, consisting of eight men and 42 women aged 18-80. Participants were assigned in rotation to four groups, and asked to write two essays. Groups 1 and 3 received hints before Essay 1, whilst Groups 2 and 4 received hints before Essay 2. Groups 1 and 2 received essential hints; Groups 3 and 4 received helpful hints. Essays were marked against set criteria. The results showed that an “advice for action” approach to essay-writing, in the form of hints, can significantly improve writers’ marks. Specifically higher marks were gained for the introduction, conclusion and use of evidence: critical components of “good” academic essays. As the hints given were content-free, this approach has the potential to instantly benefit tutors and students across subject domains and institutions and is informing the development of a technical system that can offer formative feedback as students draft essays.

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e-learning, distance learning, distance education, online learning, higher education, DE, blended learning, ICT, MOOCs, information and communication technology, collaborative learning, internet, learning management system, LMS, interaction,

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