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Peer Reviews

English 127
Research Writing

Some people associate revision and peer reviews with simply fixing mistakes.  I want you to see the revision of your drafts and the peer reviews as far more substantial than that.  You'll note that I don't use the phrase "rough draft," which suggests you might have just jotted down some ideas on a cocktail napkin!  "First draft" implies that you have given it your best shot, that you have spent time organizing your ideas, crafting your sentences and paragraphs, and in general making sure that your writing makes sense and is free of mechanical (grammar and punctuation errors) to the best of your knowledge.  Therefore, you should have already gone through the revision and editing process for your own draft in order to present it to your audience (in this case, your peer) for feedback.

Just as I don't use the phrase "rough draft," I also don't use the phrase "peer edit," which implies fixing mistakes.  The purpose of your response to your peers’ writing is twofold:  to help them to improve their drafts and to engage in dialogue with them, offering your own input and ideas, when relevant, about the information they have presented, the research question(s) they have formulated, the argument(s) they have put forth and developed, the research method(s) they have employed, and the conclusions they have reached.  Therefore, do not fear making critical remarks (which does not mean harsh).  Also, avoid simple statements like, “This is a really good paper.”  Develop your peer responses with specific suggestions and ideas. 

Print out your peer's draft; number the paragraphs of the draft so that you can refer in your typed response to instances of spelling and grammatical errors, poor word choice, ineffective or absent transitions, and poor sentence or paragraph structure and development, among other possible problems. You might place some comments and questions directly on the draft in the margins as you read, but only your typed, numbered paragraphs receive the peer review grade since neither I nor your peer will be able to see your hard copy.

Separately, in your typed peer response—

  • Use the peer review questions for any given assignment to produce coherent, distinct and substantial paragraphs in numbered form using complete sentences. Your paragraphs should be complete, so that a reader of your review would know what you are responding to.
  • Give examples from your peer’s essay when appropriate to illustrate your comments.
  • You may occasionally ask questions in your paragraphs. For example, "Why hasn’t the reform you are proposing already been implemented?"
  • Make concrete suggestions for improvement, but avoid repetition. DO NOT answer questions with a "yes" or "no." This also discourages responses like, "Yes, there is adequate development of each point."

Ultimately, you are all responsible for your own drafts and revisions.  Do not expect your peer to do the work of identifying and fixing all of your mistakes or giving you all relevant suggestions for improving your content.  In fact, if the draft you are peer reviewing is incomplete or reflects very little time and effort on the part of the writer, as a peer reviewer it is not your job to do the writer's work for him or her.  Still, if you can make some clarifying remarks or suggestions about the assignment guidelines themselves, when the writer appears not to have understood or addressed them, do so.

Also, folks are sometimes nervous about doing a peer review because they feel that they are themselves just trying to figure out the assignment and do not feel qualified to give feedback.  Yet you are also a legitimate audience for each other.  If something doesn't make sense to you as a reader, why not tell the writer?  If you have some ideas or suggestions about the topic that the writer might not have considered, why not share them?  If you have some questions that the writer hasn't addressed, why not say so? 

It can be frustrating when you put in a lot of time doing a peer review for one of your classmates, and then you don't get such careful or thoughtful feedback on your own draft.  On rare occasions, you may not receive any peer review at all from your assigned partner.  Unfortunately, the peer review process can be uneven.  However, I think that you will find that you learn a lot about the assignment and even your own draft by doing a peer review for someone else.  So, hopefully you will find that doing a peer review is rewarding even if you're not very satisfied with the peer review that you receive in return.  You will also be building the important skill of providing detailed, thoughtful, honest and respectful feedback in writing, which you will find useful in many circumstances in the future. 

It is up to you to take the feedback you receive and to re-vision your first draft, to keep thinking about your topic and to produce a final draft.  See the Revising Worksheet, CR, Ch. 13 "Organizing Your Argument" and Ch. 17 "Revising Style: Telling Your Story Clearly."  If you are able to, I also recommend that you take portions of your drafts (along with the relevant assignment guidelines) to the GRC Writing Center, which has trained tutors who can help you fulfill the requirements of your writing assignment, identify problem areas, and help you to edit and revise your essays without doing the work for you.

Although I cannot provide detailed feedback on the everyone's drafts (because of turnaround time between first and final drafts), I am happy to answer specific questions you may have, for example, relating to assignment guidelines, citations, sources, topic sentences, etc.