Making Use of Authorís Notes
What are authorís notes and why should I use them?
by Liz Ahl
††††††††††† Author's notes are just that -- notes from the author about her text.† They introduce the text, describe its composition processes, and lay the groundwork for response from peers and/or the instructor. Depending on how you'd like to use them, which might vary from assignment to assignment, author's notes might be anywhere from two paragraphs to a page and a half in length.† Although they might seem, at first glance, to be useful only with drafts in progress, author's notes can be very helpful to writers and readers at any stage of the process.
††††††††† Author's notes can provide many benefits for both teacher and student.† They can be a window onto studentsí understanding of the requirements of an assignment and their intent in fulfilling them.† They can help students feel more active as participants in an ongoing dialogue about the writing process and disciplinary content and conventions.† They help teachers learn about how students are reading and responding to written assignments, classroom instructions, and feedback. Author's notes help readers focus their responses to a piece of writing, tuning them to a writer's particular needs.†
††††††††† Conflicts (between author's intent and the rhetorical ďreality;Ē between what the assignment asked for and what the student offered) can become starting points for commentary.† Author's notes and the instructor responses they cue and inspire can make written commentary on papers more meaningful in that it more visibly contributes to the ongoing process of development a writer is going though.† They promote the kind of critical self-awareness all writers need to grow.
††††††††† Finally, author's notes provide a material strategy for staying focused on the development of student writers, rather than (only) the development of student papers.† They can help link and value process and product.
What, exactly, can students do in author's notes?
Below are some different specific things writers can do with authorís notes.† Authorís notes can be tailored to a specific assignment -- you may choose to focus more on one area (summarizing intent) or you may want students to respond in several (or all) of these ways.
1. Ask Questions
ß Ask the instructor-as-reader questions about the effects of her text.
ß Ask the reader-as-instructor questions about meeting particular requirements of the assignment.
ß Ask specific questions about specific passages.
∑ I wasn't sure about keeping the third paragraph on page two -- it seemed like extra stuff I didn't need, but then I cut it after peer review and people seemed confused, so I put it back in.† Do you think it's necessary?
∑ Is the graph on page two enough "evidence?"
∑ Did you think the connection between the lit review and my thesis question was clear enough?†
2. Discuss the process of composition/research/revisions
3. Asking students to document process might help discourage plagiarism (or at least help document it)
4. Gives the instructor insight on the process students used (it might be flawed)
5. Gives the instructor a chance to comment/intervene on process as discipline-specific
1. After you went over the assignment in class, I was really psyched because I knew I wanted to write my paper on autism and the performing arts.† When I started to do research on EBSCOhost, I couldn't find anything.† So I changed my focus to autism and just music.
2. Summarize Intent
3. This can be like an abstract, only less formal.
4. "What I want to do here is..."
5. Locate mismatch between intent and what assignment asked for
1. In this paper, I want to show the reader how music affects people with autism.† I want to present my research and persuade people that music exposure and instruction is really important for autistic kids.†
2. Acknowledge Understanding of the Assignment
3. This also deals with intent -- "the assignment asked me to do x, and here's how I did it."
4. A way to keep your fingers on the pulse of student understanding of your assignments
5. A way to contextualize the assignment within the course goals and objectives
1. The assignment sheet said to summarize three readings on my topic, which is music and autism.† I found lots of stuff -- and although I summarized three articles, I realize that I spent a lot more time on the second article.† I tried to put into my own words what was so interesting in this article, but it was hard.† Were we supposed to use any direct quotes, or just summary?† I had to include that one, because it was just so amazing, and I couldnít put it in my own words.
3. A way to communicate to the instructor any help received on a piece of writing
1. I took my initial draft to the University Writing Center and got help on my intro and conclusion from a consultant.† My roommate proofread the latest draft for me.
arenít authorís notes?
It is also important to clarify (through a rubric and/or samples) what author's notes are NOT.† They are not apologies, clarifications of what is unclear in the paper, complaints about the assignment or process or printer malfunctions.† In order to usefully promote good writing and critical thinking practices, author's notes should not succumb to these temptations.† If they are merely and entirely summaries of the paper they accompany, author's notes have little chance of shedding any light on the writer's process or starting/continuing meaningful discourse about that process and the product borne out of it.
How can I help my students make the best use of author's notes?
Include them as a part of the overall final grade for the paper/project.
Provide examples of good author's notes with the papers they accompany.
Allow authorís notes to be written in a less formal diction than the paper itself.
Connect authorís notes clearly to written assignment guidelines and rubric (which should be linked to course objectives).
How can having students write more help save me time on assessment and response?
††††††††††† By helping focus your feedback in response to articulated student needs and in dialogue with the student, instructors can save a little bit of time and energy by going into the draft with an agenda co-written by the student.† Mike says he intended to use emotional pleas and anecdotal evidence to persuade his readers that euthanasia should be banned?† Let's see if that happened.† And is that what we asked him to do?