In order for peer-review feedback to be valuable, it needs to offer a degree of specificity. A statement such as “that was great!” may give us a boost of confidence, but it doesn’t help us identify our opportunities for improvement. Likewise, “I didn’t like it” provides no direction in terms of what exactly would make the paper more accurate, informative, or interesting.
Whether students will be exchanging peer reviews online, via e-mail, or in person, they will benefit by following a few guidelines that enable them to respond to one another’s writing with clarity, consistency, and respect. Today, we offer a few suggestions that can help students provide their peers with constructive feedback that informs the writer’s revision process in a meaningful manner. If your students are new to the process of peer review, consider incorporating some of these recommendations into your instruction.
The approach a student takes to reading and responding to a paper plays a large role in their ability to offer valuable insight on that paper’s strengths and weaknesses. In Writing, Reading, and Research, Ninth Edition, Richard Veit, Christopher Gould, and Kathleen Gould offer students these principles for reading and evaluating another student’s writing:
Read your partner’s draft from beginning to end as you might read an article in a magazine or newspaper—to understand what the writer has to say, engaging with the ideas and information she has presented. Don’t look for problems in content, organization, or usage. After this first reading, describe in one or two sentences the draft’s impact on you as a reader—what it makes you think about, how it makes you feel, what questions it raises.
Then briefly state the writer’s purpose as you see it—how you think she wants to influence readers. If you recognize some general way that the draft’s organization or content doesn’t suit that purpose, call attention to it constructively. The important thing is to offer helpful, supportive comments without being insincere or patronizing.
After this initial response, re-read analytically, examining content and organization. Comment briefly in the margins on whatever catches your interest or attention. Often, the most useful comments point to details that arouse questions or cause confusion. Consider in particular how various parts of the paper advance or digress from what you consider to be the writer’s purpose.
When both you and your partner are finished, return the drafts, read each other’s review, and discuss both for as long as necessary. (Veit et al., 29)
Fred D. White and Simone J. Billings, authors of The Well-Crafted Argument: Across the Curriculum, recommend that students use the following three criteria when reviewing their peers’ writing. These criteria, along with their related questions, can help call the reviewer’s attention to points they should observe as they read:
- Purpose-related issues. Is the purpose of the draft apparent? Stated clearly enough? Is the thesis (claim) well-stated? Directly related to the purpose?
- Content-related issues. Is the scope of the topic sufficiently limited? Does the writer provide enough background information? Provide enough evidence in support of the claim? Provide enough examples and illustrations to support the evidence? Represent challenging views fully and fairly before pointing out their flaws? Are the writer’s interpretive and concluding remarks thorough? Does the writer offer clear recommendations, if appropriate?
- Issues relating to style and format. Is the writing concise? Easy to read? Are the sentences coherent, well-constructed, varied? Is the level of usage consistent and appropriate for the intended audience? Is the word choice accurate? Are unfamiliar terms defined? Does the writer use subheadings and visual aids where appropriate? Follow proper documentation format? (White and Billings, 32)
Taken together, these suggestions will help students give thoughtful consideration to one another’s work. Students can also ask themselves these questions as they read their own work, and thereby identify opportunities for improvement before they submit their work to others for review (or to you for grading).
Veit, Richard, Gould, Christopher, and Gould, Kathleen. 2014. Writing, Reading, and Research, 9th ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
White, Fred D. and Billings, Simone J. 2013. The Well-Crafted Argument: Across the Curriculum. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
What guidelines do you provide for the peer-review process? Do you have students work in pairs, in groups, or together as a whole class? Do you allow time for discussion, or is all feedback provided via e-mail or a class discussion board? Share your ideas and experiences below.