Formative Feedback (For Supervisors)_Enhancing_Postgraduate_Environments

Formative feedback (for supervisors)

Feedback is a contentious topic in higher education: it’s purpose is understood as to give student writers direction and advice on developing their writing. But it also has a more tacit role in helping student writers to develop their thinking, and their ability to be critical, analytical and increasingly independent in their writing and research, especially at postgraduate level. At this level, supervisors provide the bulk of feedback students need to work with. This happens over an extended period of time, and the feedback needs to vary in form, tone and content, depending on which stage of the research journey students are in. Most supervisors are not coached in feedback-giving, and it is not always easy to know what kind of feedback to give, and when. This material outlines what formative feedback is, and what role in plays in student-writer development at this level. It also includes a screencast with an example of a ‘feedback conversation’ between a student and her supervisors, to illustrate the way formative feedback can be given, and responded to, in a student/supervisor relationship. Ultimately, the material encouraged supervisors to use their feedback to enable meta-reflection, so that students can develop their immediate writing, as well as their capacity as writers and thinkers.

Developed by Sherran Clarence, Independent higher education consultant. Thanks to Martina van Heerden for the narration.

Who might find this useful?

This material is for individual use postgraduate supervisors, and writing coaches or mentors, or in workshops facilitated for postgraduate supervisors on the role and work of supervision in PG research.

Explore these additional resources

Useful blogposts:


Additional reading:

  • NPF report on best practice for supervisors (
  • Catherine Manathunga (2007) Supervision as mentoring: The role of power and boundary crossing. Studies in Continuing education, 29:2, 207-221, DOI: 10.1080/01580370701424650.
  • Nickola C. Overall, Kelsey L. Deane & Elizabeth R. Peterson (2011) Promoting doctoral students’ research self-efficacy: combining academic guidance with autonomy support, Higher Education Research & Development, 30:6, 791-805, DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2010.535508