Academic Writing: Getting the Most Out of Peer Review

Your teacher assigned you to read and critique a colleague’s paper, and in return, you will receive feedback on your paper. However, this assignment seems confusing – in a class about writing, you feel uncomfortable offering criticism when you’re in the learning stages yourself!

Although the peer review process is often dreaded by students everywhere, it is a powerful tool toward developing your own editorial eye, which will improve your own writing. Here are some tips in getting the most out of the assigned peer review process:

1. Bring the best copy of your work to class. This should go without saying, but often students bring copies of their papers that they wrote in the two hours before it is due. As such, these papers often contains a weak structure, distracting sentences (incomplete or run-ons) and a large number of grammatical mistakes. If you bring the best work (e.g. you cannot think of how to improve your paper), you will get criticisms that will make your writing better. However, if you bring a draft of something you didn’t put much effort into, you will not take criticisms seriously as it is easy to justify mistakes since you didn’t work that hard on the paper in the first place.

2. In grading someone else’s work, ask yourself if the paragraphs make sense. Does all the material presented belong in each paragraph (e.g. does the author go off on a tangent anywhere)? Does the paper logically flow from one sentence to another? Recreate an outline of your peer’s paper, and see if there is superfluous material, or a point that they left out that could strengthen their argument or analysis.

3. Do you believe their argument? Why or why not? This type of insight does not necessarily depend if you are the next Hemingway. You have an opinion'”use it (but be nice!). Did they write extreme sentences that they could modify? For example, there is a logical difference between, “Joyce Carol Oates is the world’s worst author because she uses too many descriptions” versus “Although Joyce Carol Oates uses convincing dialogue within her prose, her overly descriptive portrayal of blue collar life detracts from her overall narrative.” The first is very extreme; the second recognizes something she does well, and does not characterize her as “the world’s worst.”

4. Look for grammatical mistakes. If something sounds awkward, it is probably incorrect. If you do not know if the sentence is grammatically correct, try looking it up online by searching for grammar rules. Treat it as a game'”and in doing so, you will improve your own knowledge of how to write, and write well.