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.
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.
A Process for Reviewing Peer Papers
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.
Here is a sample peer review for an Ad Analysis paper:
Image created by Dr. Karen Palmer and licensed using CCSABY.
Revision is an important part of the writing process. Our first draft should never be our final draft. There is always room for improvement. A published author of a New York Times best-selling novel can still find opportunities to make the novel better.
It’s important to note that revision concerns making changes to what is said and how it is said. It includes adding or deleting paragraphs, changing the organization of points in the paper, adding more support, clarifying ideas, etc. Revision is not a matter of fixing spelling errors and adding punctuation marks. Instead, revision is where an author refines the ideas to ensure that the purpose of the message is fulfilled.
In addition to taking note of comments from peer review, students should consider taking their papers to a Writing Lab or Learning Center on their campus for additional feedback. Reading the paper out loud to a friend or a family member can also help students find areas that could be improved.
Editing is the very final step. Think of editing as the icing on the cake. This is where a writer will make the final product look great. Students should not begin editing until they are sure that the draft is exactly how they want it. Submitting papers to a service like Turnitin or Grammarly can help students find grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. Once editing is complete, it’s time to submit the final draft of the essay!
Here is a great checklist to use prior to submitting a final draft:
Editing Checklist for Academic Essays
- All papers are in MLA format
- Appropriate headings and page numbering are used
- Margins are correct: 1/2 inch from top to right header, 1 inch all around
- Spacing is set to double, with no extra line spaces between headings and title, title and body, or between paragraphs
- Within the essay, parenthetical citations are used (Lastname 13).
- A works cited page is included when appropriate, with all necessary information.
Mechanics: Spelling, Punctuation, Grammar, Syntax
- Did I run spell-check?
- Did I check homonyms? (Example: to, too, and two)
- Did I look up difficult words?
- Did I proofread aloud to catch obvious errors?
- Are all sentences complete (subject & verb, complete thought)?
- Did I use one verb tense throughout (unless there was a good reason to switch)?
- Did I use present tense verbs to discuss texts?
- Have I checked for run-on sentences and comma splices?
- Does my paper flow when read aloud? Did I use different sentence lengths and styles?
“Editing Checklist” from The Word on College Reading and Writing by Babin, et al licensed by CC NC 4.0.
Unless otherwise noted, content created by Dr. Karen Palmer and licensed under CC-BY NC SA. Last edited 5/29/2020.