Dr. Karen Palmer and Dr. Sandi Van Lieu

In many situations, you will be required to have at least one of your peers review your essay (and you will, in turn, review at least one peer’s essay). Even if you’re not required to exchange drafts with a peer, it’s essential at some point before you begin editing your paper to have another pair of eyes on your paper. Therefore, if you don’t have a peer review assigned or a draft graded by your instructor prior to submitting a final draft, a good idea is to make an appointment with the Academic Learning Center or the Writing Lab at YC. This is a free service for students, so take advantage of it!

In this video, Dr. Ellen Turner discusses the importance of peer review:

Accepting Reviews

You may receive suggestions from peers, instructors, or tutors. It’s important to approach their suggestions with the right attitude. An important attribute of successful people is being teachable. This means that you take on an attitude of humility–acknowledging that you don’t know everything–and that you are willing to learn from others to improve your work. When you receive suggestions for content changes, try to put aside any tendencies to react defensively, so that you can consider their ideas for revisions with an open mind.

If you are accustomed only to getting feedback from instructors that is accompanied by a grade, you may need to get used to the difference between evaluation and judgment. In college settings, instructors often prefer to intervene most extensively after you have completed an outline or a first draft, with evaluative commentary that tends to be suggestive, forward-looking, and free of a final quantitative judgment (like a grade). If you read your instructors’ feedback in those circumstances as final, you can miss the point of the exercise. You’re supposed to do something with this sort of commentary, not just read it as the justification for a (nonexistent) grade.

Sometimes peers think they’re supposed to “sound like an English teacher” so they fall into the trap of “correcting” your draft, but in most cases, the prompts used in college-level peer reviewing discourage that sort of thing. In many situations, your peers will give you ideas that will add value to your paper, and you will want to include them. In other situations, your peers’ ideas will not really work into the plan you have for your paper. It is not unusual for peers to offer ideas that you may not want to implement. Remember, your peers’ ideas are only suggestions, and it is your essay, and you are the person who will make the final decisions. If your peers happen to be a part of the audience to which you are writing, they can sometimes give you invaluable ideas. And if they’re not, take the initiative to find outside readers who might actually be a part of your audience.

If you decide to visit a tutor to get additional help on your paper, it’s very important to be sure that the tutor understands the assignment information. Make sure you bring a clear copy of the assignment with you so the tutor is aware of what the instructor is asking of you. Don’t expect a tutor to simply tell you what to change or to “fix” your paper for you. If possible, have questions in mind to ask about how you might improve your paper. Remember, the paper is ultimately your responsibility, so it’s up to you whether to take all the advice offered by the tutor.

Giving Reviews

Reading a text as a reviewer should be considered both a privilege and an opportunity. The professional world demands the ability to negotiate ideas and work collaboratively to achieve success, and peer review offers a wonderful way to practice those skills. Peer review, then, offers advantages beyond merely helping a classmate earn a better grade. Peer Review offers an opportunity to apply what students have learned in the role of a teacher. By looking at their peers’ work, a student will better retain what has been learned and become a better writer in the process.

Reviewing Responsibly

As peer reviewers approach a text, they should bring with them several qualities: an ability to remain focused on the task of improving the text; an ability to prioritize the needs of the author; and an ability to provide specific, insightful feedback. Peer reviewers should think critically about how well a text fulfills its purpose in regard to the rhetorical situation of the essay. Focusing on how well a fellow student presents his/her argument should help keep peer reviewers from attacking the author as a human being and should prevent the reviewer from hijacking the text with suggestions that change the stance of the author or the purpose of the writing.

Reviewers should understand that the draft is not final. Since the text will likely be revised, focusing on issues of grammar or spelling is not as useful as focusing on the content and rhetorical strategies of the text. In order of importance, reviewers should focus on issues of content, focus, organization, topic, and purpose.

A good reviewer should offer insight that is grounded in the text. Engaging writing critically requires the ability to point out inconsistencies, to question logic, to seek clarification, and to open the author’s eyes to anything he or she may have taken for granted.

Giving great feedback isn’t just something you’ll need to do for your classes–it’s a skill you need for life, too! Learn more in this TED video:

A Process for Reviewing Peer Papers

If you have not been given specific instructions for completing peer review by your instructor, here are some general guidelines to follow:

1)  First, read the paper all the way through, just as you would a poem or a short story. Appreciate what the writer is trying to say before you begin making comments, either good or bad. If you can’t figure out what the writer’s point is, try reading the paper a second time through. Remember, you are part of the audience for this paper, so it’s important that you ‘get it’!

2) Second, hold the paper up against the assignment criteria. When you feel that you understand what the writer is trying to say, jot down what you think his/her main point is. Take a look at the assignment’s major criteria. For an ad analysis, a reviewer might look for a clear thesis statement that indicates the strategies used by the advertiser, a strong description of the ad, a discussion of the magazine in which the ad was located, a discussion of the strategies used with examples from the ad, etc. Does the writer fulfill the criteria?

3)  Give the writer feedback containing at least three positive comments, as well as pointing out at least three areas that the writer could improve. Remember to include specific examples. Don’t just tell a writer his intro lacks luster…give him some ideas to spice it up. Don’t just say, “I like the paper,” give reasons why. Offering suggestions and reasons help the author to make better decisions about revision.

4) Your review should include the following three items: a recap of the main point, three things you like about the paper, and three areas the paper could be improved. As you do so, remember the golden rule. Speak to others with respect and consideration. Your job is to help them do better, not put them in their place. However, just telling someone they did a great job when you see areas they can improve is not fair. Find a balance between constructive criticism and encouragement.

5)  Remember to focus on revision, not on editing or proofreading.

When you are reviewing a peer’s essay, keep in mind that the author likely knows more about the topic than you do, so don’t question content unless you are certain of your facts. Also, do not suggest changes just because you would do it differently or because you want to give the impression that you are offering ideas. Only suggest changes that you seriously think would make the essay stronger.

Exercise 1

In some courses, your instructor might give you a specific format to use to when completing peer reviews. Choose one of three sample essays on this site and complete a peer review either using the three step method above or the table below. Compare your suggestions with those given on the site.

Questions Answers
1. What does the writer do well in this essay?


2. What does the writer need to work on in this essay?


3. Does the introduction grab your attention? Does it lead smoothly to a thesis? If not, what could the writer do to improve it?


4. Does each paragraph develop one main idea? Do each of the topic sentences tie back to the thesis?


5. Does the writer offer evidence for the points he or she makes in each paragraph? If so, is the evidence convincing?


6. Does the writer use transitions between paragraphs and ideas?


7. Does the conclusion briefly summarize in a fresh way the writer’s main argument and then end on a memorable note (such as a quotation, thought, image, or call to action)? What is that memorable impression that the conclusion leaves?


8. Is the essay formatted correctly (margins, font, spacing, etc.)? If not, what needs to be corrected?


9. Are there grammar and spelling errors in the essay? Is the MLA and in-text citations done correctly?


10. Any final thoughts?




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