Step Away from the Red Pen - Part 2: Four Simple Words

The words we use hold power—the power to nurture, inspire, and teach. A small adjustment to our feedback wording can turn what sounds like corrective feedback into appreciative, hopeful feedback. Consider these two statements:

You added dialogue to your story but you need to add inner thinking.

Because you added dialogue to your story, you are ready to add inner thinking.

These two statements are identical in what can be a writer’s next step in revision. Clearly, though, they do not hold the same tone. The word “but” is the culprit. When using the word “but” all of the words and ideas that come before it are discounted, minimized, or made to sound like a weakness. Having added dialogue to a story no longer seems like enough or like an asset. 

When we revise this statement and take out the word “but” to show that there is already a strength present in the writing, and built on that strength is a next step, the tone completely changes. By starting with the phrase “because you” the writer learns what is working, what is solid, and what is a strength. And now, on that foundation the writer has laid, there are opportunities. “You are ready” reminds students that the work they did has created possibilities that would not have been there without the strengths already in place. Here are a few more examples taking out the “but” and instead using four powerful words: Because... you are ready...

  • Because you have worked so hard at getting ideas down, you are ready to talk those ideas through with a partner, or me.
  • Because you were able to get the table of contents written for your information book, you are ready to try out different ways of structuring your chapters.
  • Because you were able to add facts about your topic, you are ready to add some explanation of those facts. 
  • Because your information is so clear, you are ready to include some domain specific words (or transitional language etc.)
  • Because you have stated your claim clearly, you are ready to plan out your most convincing reasons.
  • Because you included many reasons in your favor, you are ready to try to address the counter argument.
  • Because you have clearly included many factual supports for your claim, you are ready to bring in a few mini stories.

Try making this small tweak in your feedback. Remove the three letter word “but” and replace it with “because... you are ready…” and treasure the look on each of your writer’s faces.

Patty McGee