Writing Feedback Tools

Penn State librarians have put together excellent citation and writing guides. Whether you need help with MLA, APA, Chicago, or another style, the Library may have the guide for you.

Students can also learn strategies for research and writing papers through the Information Literacy tutorial provided by the Penn State Libraries. Get information ranging from choosing a research topic to identifying quality sources through these tutorials, videos, and quizzes.

The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) is a collection of resources to help you improve your grammar and learn new writing strategies. The site also provides detailed instructions on MLA, APA, and Chicago styles.

Penn State’s Engineering Department offers many tips for science and engineering writing. It also teaches the fundamentals of writing formal reports and correspondence, useful for any student.

Grammarly.com can check your papers, emails, and discussion posts for spelling and grammar errors.

Using Text Expanders for Grading

From Dr. Megan Baril, HHD

A couple years ago, I downloaded a free text expander program called Phrase Express. Text expander software allows you to create a catalogue of the common types of feedback that you provide students and insert this feedback by entering a pre-determined word/phrase and pressing “Tab.”

To share with you this approach, I have written a list of questions/answers about this feedback strategy.

What does text expander software do?

Text expander software allows the user to enter a word/phrase and then press “Tab.” After you enter this word/phrase, a paragraph that you have entered will show up where you are typing.

For example, when I type the word “topic” and then press “tab,” this blurb that I have written is inserted into the document I am grading: “I encourage you to write in shorter paragraphs with clear topic sentences. Your paragraphs were long as written, and a bit hard to follow. Here’s a great resource on topic sentences that may be helpful to you as you work on future written assignments.

This text expander works when you are providing track change feedback in Word or comments in drop boxes in Canvas. I have not yet found a place where I would give feedback that it has not worked.

Why have I chosen to use text expander software to give feedback?

Having taught online for 10 years now, I’ve found there are many common types of feedback that I give students on their writing quality and APA style. I found myself typing the same thing over and over for students, and I wanted a more efficient way to provide similar feedback to multiple students. This software allows me to quickly get the writing/APA notes out of the way so that I can give individualized feedback to students on their content. In other words, it allows me to spend more of my time as “teacher” instead of “writing/APA coach.” I can give quality feedback in both content and writing; however, this strategy really streamlines the writing/APA feedback.

The other strategy this software has consistently allowed me to incorporate is pointing students to quality resources on APA style/writing on specific issues. So, for example, this morning I added an entry into my Phrase Express software about the use of hanging indents on reference lists.

I type “hang” and press “Tab,” and then this blurb comes up:

“APA style requires that references on your reference page have a hanging indent. Watch this video for step by step instructions on how to create hanging indents for your reference page for future assignments.”

I like being able to consistently give students quality resources to look at on the issues I am pointing out for their assignments.

Are there other types of text expander software out there?

I am sure that there are! I have not thoroughly researched all available text expander software or the ways certain programs vary from others. There are programs that you could pay for instead of downloading free ones. I lucked out in that my first attempt at using this software was successful for me.

Is there a big learning curve to using this software?

I would not say that it took me very long to get accustomed to using this software to grade. Over the past few months, I have memorized my keywords/phrases that I have extended feedback for in the text expander. When I initially started, I kept an Excel table, like the one you see below, that I could refer to when grading.

What if I don’t want the blurb that has been entered into the software in a particular sentence I am writing?

The nice thing about the way that I have set up my Phrase Express is that I have to press “Tab” after the word for the phrase to be inserted. There are automatic ways to have certain things entered, but I like the extra step of having to press “Tab” to make sure that blurbs are not inserted unless I want them to be placed in a student’s work.

I always click on “Execute after manual confirmation.” (In other words, I press “Tab” to have the blurb inserted.)

What types of writing/APA feedback have you used the text expander for?

Here are some examples of the blurbs I use with the Text Expander software. This list is continually growing and changing. I find that if I write similar feedback for several students’ assignments, it is easier to make an entry in Phrase Express than to type it in each time.

Writing Quality Examples
Word/Phrase Blurb


Please write a clear introduction and conclusion paragraph in your writing per strong writing organization. 
quote Please limit yourself to one quote in a post and paraphrase from your sources the rest of the time, which demonstrates to me your critical thinking about the material.

You have made errors with your comma usage in this assignment. It can be tricky to know when commas are or aren’t needed. 

bul Please avoid using bullets in your writing assignments in this course and write in paragraph form instead.
tone Make sure that you write with a proper academic tone in your assignment. Your tone was relatively informal as written. Here is a summary of what academic tone in academic writing looks like.

There were several grammatical errors in your assignment. Please use the Guide for Good Writing I have provided the course as a tool for checking your writing before you submit your assignment. Another great writing quality resource you can use when proofing your work is the Purdue OWL.

APA Style Examples
Word/Phrase Blurb
double Please double space your papers in this course to abide by APA style and to make your writing easier to read.

Make sure your references start on their own page per APA style.


Please use the term “References” instead of “Works Cited”. References is APA style, and Works Cited is MLA style.

citequo Please make sure you check APA rules for how to cite a quotation correctly, as your quotation citation was incorrect in this discussion.

Please don’t forget to have a title page in APA style for written assignments in this course. Here’s a website that shows how to write a title page in APA format.

website Website sources are not accepted. Please make sure that all of your sources that you use in the writing in this course are scholarly and peer-reviewed.
listing Listing websites is not proper APA format for citing. Please use this resource when you need to cite a website in APA style, as it walks you through how to do it correctly.

You can also use these types of phrases for common things that you write in emails to students or on discussion board responses. Believe it or not, this really saves a lot of time, even if some of these phrases are relatively short! Here are some of the ones that I commonly use.

Phrases Used in Email
Word/Phrase Blurb
check Thanks for checking!

I look forward to your response.

Dr. B.

(I use this one commonly on discussion boards when I am responding to students)


Let me know if you have any further questions!

Dr. B.

road I hope you are on the road to recovery!

Here are some things to keep in mind for future assignments:

(I often try to give positive feedback first, and then I’ll enter this blurb before I give students constructive feedback.)


Thanks for your thoughtful response to my question I posed to you on the discussion board.

(You can use this software to give positive feedback as well!)

ext In the future, please know that I’m willing to give extensions on your course work if you are before the assignment due date.
track You are definitely on the right track!
99 I’m happy to grant you an extension. I’ll put a 99 in the grade book to denote the extension I have given you on your work. Once I grade your work, I’ll delete the 99 and your grade will be entered into the grade book.