Strategies for Peer Reviewing


Peer reviewing (also called peer-editing) means people getting together to read, comment on, and recommend improvements to each other’s work. Peer-reviewing is a good way to become a better writer because it provides experience in looking critically at writing. Peer reviewing is also important in team writing: it’s how individual team members review each other’s drafts of the writing project. When you peer-review another writer’s work, you evaluate it, criticize it, suggest improvements, and then communicate all of that to the writer. As a first-time peer-reviewer, you might be a bit uneasy about criticizing someone else’s work. For example, how do you tell somebody their essay is boring? Read the following discussion; you’ll find advice and guidelines on doing peer reviews and communicating peer-review comments.

Flowchart showing the peer review process.
Image 4.15 Revision and Peer Review Process Flowchart (Credit: “Revision Practices” from Workplace Writing and Communication, licensed under CC BY NC 4.0)

Initial Meeting

At the beginning of a peer review, the writer should provide peer reviewers with notes on the writing assignment and on goals and concerns about the writing project (topic, audience, purpose, situation, type) and alert them to any problems or concerns. As the writer, you want to alert reviewers to these problems and make it clear what goals you are trying to accomplish within the document. Similarly, peer reviewers should ask writers whose work they are peer-reviewing to supply information on their objectives and concerns. The peer-review questions should be specific like the following:

  • Does my explanation of a virtual machine make sense to you? Would it make sense to our least technical customers?
  • In general, is my writing style too technical? (I may have mimicked too much of the engineers’ specifications.)
  • Are the chapter titles and headings indicative enough of the following content? (I had trouble phrasing some of these.)
  • Are the screenshots clear enough? (I may have been trying to include too much detail in some of them.)

Peer-Reviewing Strategies

If you are new to peer-reviewing, you want to make sure that your review is comprehensive. Consider all aspects of the draft you’re reviewing, not just the grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Read the draft several times, looking for a complete range of potential problem areas:

  • Interest level, adaptation to audience
  • Persuasiveness, purpose
  • Content, organization
  • Clarity of discussion
  • Coherence, clear transitions
  • Title, introduction, and conclusion.
  • Sentence style and clarity
  • Handling of graphics
  • Be careful about making comments or criticisms based on your personal style. Base your criticisms and suggestions for improvements on generally accepted guidelines, concepts, and rules. If you do make a comment based on your own preference, explain it.
  • Explain the problems you find fully. Don’t just say a paper “seems disorganized.” Explain what is disorganized about the document. Use specific details from the draft to demonstrate your case.
  • Whenever you criticize something in the writer’s draft, try to suggest a way to correct the problem. It’s not enough to tell the writer that their paper seems disorganized, for example. Explain how that problem could be solved, and provide the writer with possible revisions.
  • Base your comments and criticisms on accepted guidelines, concepts, principles, and rules. It’s not enough to tell a writer that two paragraphs ought to be switched, for example. State the reason why: “I suggest moving this general, introductory information so it appears first.”
  • Avoid rewriting the draft you are reviewing. In your efforts to suggest improvements and corrections, don’t go overboard and rewrite the draft yourself. Doing so takes away the writer’s ownership of the document and steals the opportunity to learn and improve as a writer.
  • Provide positive, encouraging comments about the draft you’re reviewing. Compliments, even small ones, are usually wildly appreciated. Read through the draft at least once, looking for aspects that were done well, and then let the writer know about them.

How to Offer Your Peer Advice

Students often worry about the peer review process, especially if they have never been asked to peer review before in a classroom setting. The best way to address this fear is to accept that you will be unable to locate every error or weakness. Once you understand that the process is not perfect, it is easier to feel comfortable with your role as the reviewer. Here are a few tips that will help you during the peer review process:

  • Begin by reading the assignment instructions. Your instructor will likely have clear goals for the peer review process, and following the instructions will help you provide significant and meaningful revision ideas for your peer.
  • Read your peer’s writing from beginning to end without adding any comments. This first read will allow you to grasp your peer’s intentions and focus.
  • Complete a second reading of your peer’s draft and start looking for strengths and weaknesses. Make comments on the margins of your peer’s writing. Later, you can further expand on these comments when you complete the peer review.
  • When you feel stuck, stop and ask yourself “If this was my writing, how would I revise?”
  • Set aside time to review the organization of your peer’s writing.
  • Be honest. Your peers want to earn the best grade they can, and your advice during peer review will help them achieve this goal. Think of every piece of advice as constructive criticism. Your advice will help them to create a stronger, more focused writing sample.

The peer review process has the potential to help you create a much stronger and more focused essay. Try to be open to the process and give honest and thoughtful critiques.

Peer-Review Summary

Once you’ve finished a peer review, it’s a good idea to write a summary of your thoughts, observations, impressions, criticisms, or feelings about the rough draft. See the peer-reviewer note below, which summarizes observations on a rough draft. Notice in the note some of the following details:

  • The comments are categorized according to the type of problem or error—grammar and usage comments are in one group, while higher-level comments on content, organization, and interest can be placed in another group.
  • The relative importance of the groups of comments is indicated. The peer-reviewer indicates which suggestions would be “nice” to incorporate and which ones are critical to the success of the writing project.
  • Most of the comments include some brief statement of guidelines, rules, examples, or common sense. The reviewer doesn’t simply say, “This is wrong; fix it.” They also explain the basis for the comment.
  • Questions are addressed to the writer. The reviewer is double-checking to see if the writer actually meant to state or imply certain ideas.
  • The reviewer includes positive comments to make about the rough draft and finds non-antagonistic, sympathetic ways to state criticisms.
Image of an email containing a sample peer review summary.
Image 4.16 Excerpt from a note summarizing the results of a peer review.(Credit: : “Excerpt from a note summarizing the results of a peer review” from Workplace Writing and Communication, licensed under CC BY NC 4.0)

Spend some time summarizing your peer-review comments in a brief note to the writer. Be as diplomatic and sympathetic as you can!

Higher and Lower Order Concerns

After you have written a draft of your document, you will need to make changes. While you may feel that you write best “under pressure” the night before your assignment is due or in the minutes before sending an email at work, writing a single draft at the last minute rarely results in anyone’s best work. You may feel that you’ve put a lot of effort into your first draft, so it can be challenging to think about changing your work or even eliminating words that you toiled over. However, it’s well worth the pain of revising, editing, and proofreading so you produce a polished piece of writing that others can easily understand. To revise a piece of writing, it may help you to consider three approaches: look at the big picture, check your organization, and proofread your final draft.

Higher Order Concerns

Revising for higher order concerns means organizing your ideas. You might insert sentences, words, or paragraphs, move them elsewhere in your document, or remove them entirely.

When you revise at the “big picture” stage, you are looking at the most important aspects of the writing tasks and the ones that require the most thought. Here’s a set of questions to help you revise for these higher order concerns:

  • Have I met the purpose and requirements?
  • Does my draft say what I mean?
  • Have I changed my thinking through writing or researching?
  • Are there parts that do not belong here?
  • Are there pieces missing?
  • Are there places where the writing does not make sense?
  • Is the tone right for my reader?
  • Are my sources the right kind for my purpose and reader?
  • Are all the pieces in the right place?
  • Are sources documented?

Another way to edit for higher order concerns is to prepare a reverse outline using your draft.

Lower Order Concerns

Lower order concerns focus on editing and proofreading. When you edit, you work from your revised draft to systematically correct issues or errors in punctuation, grammar, spelling, and other issues related to writing mechanics. Proofreading is the last stage, where you work from your almost-finished document to fix any issues or errors in formatting or typos you missed. Here’s another way of distinguishing these two tasks. Editing is the act of making changes or indicating what to change; proofreading means checking to make sure those changes were made.

Perhaps you are the person who proofreads and edits as you write a draft, so when you are done drafting and revising for content and structure, you may not have that much editing or proofreading to do. Or maybe you are the person who pays no attention to grammar and spelling as you draft, saving all of the editing until you are finished writing. Either way, plan to carefully edit and proofread your work. For most people, proofreading on a printed copy is more effective than working entirely on screen.

Here are some additional strategies for editing and proofreading your work:

  • Take a break between writing and editing. Even a 15-minute break can help you look at your document anew.
  • Read your work aloud.
  • Work through your document slowly, moving word by word.
  • Start at the end of your document and work towards the beginning.
  • Focus on one issue at a time. Trying to look for spelling errors, punctuation issues, awkward phrasing, and more all at once can make it easier to miss items needing correction.
  • Don’t rely exclusively on spelling- or grammar-checking software. (This poem was run through such a program, and no problems were detected!)
  • Review your document several times.

Works Cited

Higher order versus lower order concerns in The Word on College Reading and Writing by M. Babin, C. Burnell, S. Pesznecker, N. Rosevear, and J. Wood and is used under a CC-BY-NC 4.0 International license.


Adapted from “Chapter 11: Strategies for Peer Reviewing and Team Writing” of Workplace Writing and Communication, 2020, used according to creative commons CC-BY-NC 4.0 .



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UNM Core Writing OER Collection Copyright © 2023 by University of New Mexico is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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