Peer Review: Some Frequently Asked Questions
- What is Peer Review? In short, Peer Review is a process in which we carefully read and respond to each other’s work. When we respond, we respond with intent to strengthen and improve the text.
- How do we Peer Review? Peer Review will consist of the following steps:
Reading and Responding in Private
- Read your peer’s text. Remain alert and thoughtful. Mark moments in the writing that confuse or delight you. Try to keep your marks during this first reading light. Do not worry about grammatical or spelling errors. Right now we are addressing the bigger picture. In this class, we will refer to big picture edits as Global Edits and more detailed, sentence level edits as Local Edits. Because these are early drafts, we will focus on Global Edits.
- Reread your peer’s text. This is when you push yourself and the text. Leave comments in the margins that address strengths and weaknesses you may have noticed in the text. Be as specific as possible and do not hesitate to suggest solutions or to explain why something worked. Please see #4 for more on Marginal Comments.
- Type a closing 150 word note for your peer and bring two copies of this note to class. (One of them is for me.) This note does not have to be long, two to three paragraphs. This is your opportunity to expand on one or two marginal comments you think your peer should prioritize. You could also use this space to address issues you see with the overall organization of the text or an underdeveloped argument or perspective. If you have noticed a pattern of surface error, point that pattern out, here.
Remember to directly address the text even if you are discussing the text-as-whole. For example, if you are concerned about an essay’s overall organization, you can cite sentences or paragraphs where the essay’s structure falters and try to pin point why.
Reading and Responding in Class
- Bring your peer’s marked text and printed note to class. (IMPORTANT: If you think you may want to use this marked paper for your portfolio, please make sure to scan a copy for yourself) We will work in groups of three and discuss each text for about fifteen minutes each.
- To begin: the writer will choose a page or more of text for a peer to read out loud. The writer should explain why he or she chose that selection to read.
- The writer should have two or three questions they would like the group to address. The more specific these questions, the better. For example, a writer can ask, How can I _________ better? Or: I want to _____________. Do you have any suggestions how? Or: Where is my writing strongest? Can you explain why?
- These questions are a great place to begin. After addressing these questions, discussion should progress freely inside the following parameters:
- The discussion remains respectful.
- The discussion remains pertinent to and centered on the text.
- Why do we have to do this? Peer Review presents us with the unique and powerful challenge of engaging a text-in-progress without the emotional baggage of that text being our own. It is easy for us to get comfortable, if not attached to our word choices, sentences, thought progression, and logic—and this can make it difficult for us to see our text with clear eyes. I may know what I want to say. In my mind it makes complete sense, but this internal vision can cloud my ability to read what my sentences (and paragraphs) are actually saying.
When we Peer Review, we offer our peers insight into their texts, and we help those texts improve, but we also practice and strengthen our ability to see our own words as moldable. We improve on our ability to see clearly, to notice vagueness or leaps in logic or a sentence that forgets where it’s going. Simply put, we get better.
- What qualities make for a good comment? A good comment does more than connect with the text (i.e. “You need more information here” or “This is vague”). A good comment weaves into the text. It states in detail what the reader perceives as being said or not said, and it develops real life, specific suggestions that will help the writer strengthen or clarify his or her text.
In general, you want to comment on the things you notice—trust your instinct and intellect and remain alert to moments when you feel ousted from the text due to confusion or disbelief. It’s also helpful to note moments when you feel like an argument comes too easily or a conclusion feels too simple.
Comments can do many things. Here are some possibilities:
- Discuss an essay’s opening paragraph and the expectations it creates
- Help a writer establish what is at stake in the paper. Perhaps the writer can raise the stakes.
- Point out a claim that could use fleshing-out, and suggest specific ways to do so
- Note a paragraph that seems to stray too far from the paragraph’s claim
- Assess the strength of supporting evidence—and if the evidence is a citation, whether or not the writer remains in control when using it
- Suggest a citation as evidence
- Complicate a too simple conclusion by way of playing devil’s advocate and/or providing new ways to interpret the evidence
- Point out exceptions and/or gray areas
- Notice strong sentences and evaluate whether or not they occur in the text where they should
- Discuss the paper’s overall progression
- Identify places where the text’s organization may lapse
- I’m afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. What should I do? I think it helps to acknowledge the separation between the writer and the work. These texts are works-in-progress. Each text nurtures its own integrity—outside of the writer’s existence—and we come together to help the writer actualize that integrity. We also want to practice (always always) respect for the writer and the writer’s vision. We want to help the text say what the text wants to say, not what we think it should say. If a text argues something and we disagree, we can still help the text to tighten and strengthen. We do our peers and ourselves a great service when we challenge one another to better support the stances we choose to take.
- I get that I should focus on Global Edits but comma splices make me angry. Can I please mark them? While I understand the dilemma, it is better for us to focus our efforts on the bigger picture. When we revise in earnest, many of the sentences (and paragraphs) in our earlier drafts change. These drafts act like preliminary sketches. We, as writers, are playing with the overall composition of our ideas, and while it is good and necessary to know how, when, and where to use a comma, Peer Review is neither the time nor place to exert too much energy on grammatical error.
That said, if you see a clear pattern of surface error, consider pointing out the pattern in your 150 word note.