Whether they are new and learning or well-experienced and still learning, writers agree: receiving feedback from an interested reader is generally beneficial. Additionally, those same writers often find that they directly benefit their own reading and writing processes by providing review and offering feedback for others. In college courses, feedback may be provided by classmates, peer tutors, and of course by instructors. This chapter aims to explain how writers benefit through various aspects of text review, whether they are providing feedback on another’s work or receiving comments on their own work. From the perspective of learning to help a peer improve their writing, students will learn to provide and receive constructive feedback in ways that foster careful revision and reflection.
Participating in peer review
How can a reviewer address document effectiveness?
The most important thing to do as a reviewer is to prepare. Preparation in this case means to understand what is being asked of you as a reviewer. A good understanding necessarily requires you to ask questions of the writer as you prepare for a review; during the review process; and after you give feedback.
A document’s effectiveness relies upon the writer’s ability to identify and meet the needs and expectations of the document’s audience. A reviewer must understand who makes up that audience. The short answer to the question posed above, then, is by reviewing the document from the point of view of its intended audience while recognizing the purpose of the document and the context in which it will be used.
Reviewers as members of the audience
Ideally, you will be able to represent an audience of a writer’s peers when you participate in peer review of a document: in other words, students who are asked to write for an audience of their peers will generally conduct peer-to-peer reviews and offer feedback to each other. However, in some instances assignments will identify a specific audience other than one’s peers. In that case, you should discuss with the writer who the intended audience will be so you can review from the audience’s perspective. Regardless of the situation, the only way to make a mistake in this case is to make assumptions about the audience without discussing the audience with the writer – so, be sure to have that discussion before offering feedback. A good place to begin the discussion is to simply ask the writer
- Who do imagine your audience to be?
- What do they know about your topic? What don’t they know?
- How do they feel about the arguments you are making?
Other questions to ask of the writer using a “what, why, and how” approach
As you prepare to conduct a review for your peer writer, it will help to ask additional questions about the writer’s purpose and the context in which he or she is writing. One way to think about this discussion is to ask what/why/how questions: for example,
- What is your purpose for writing this document?
- What do you want to persuade the audience to do, think, believe, or feel?
- Why do you think this topic is important, interesting, or significant?
- How does your writing attempt to influence the reader?
What to avoid during review
In addition to the warning above not to make assumptions about the audience, purpose, or context of the document, it is important to understand what the writer is asking you to provide them in terms of feedback. While some peer reviewers find it easy to concentrate on sentence-level editing matters like grammar and mechanical errors, often those issues should be left for proofreading reviews much later in the document development process. Focus instead on setting the stage for a helpful discussion with the writer based on feedback about the document’s effectiveness in reaching the audience and accomplishing its intended purpose.
How can a reviewer suggest ways to improve document effectiveness?
After you have asked the important questions and feel adequately prepared to begin a review, make sure your understanding of the peer review process is complete.
- Have you been asked, for example, to provide a manually marked-up paper copy of the document after reading it one or more times?
- Are you exchanging electronic copies of documents and using MS-Word or another software to provide comments?
- How many different opportunities will you have to review and comment on this draft document?
Being positive and helpful
This textbook has introduced the concept of sandwiching material in your documents. For example, you have learned about placing illustrations between introductory text and following text: in other words, sandwiching illustrations between sections of text. Similarly, comments and suggestions about a piece of writing may be most effective when the reviewer sandwiches them in the same way.
Consider the way you receive comments and criticism: how might you respond to each of the following examples of feedback? Assume you received the following comments on a draft assignment from an instructor or a peer, and describe your reaction in the space provided:
1. Reviewer A comments:
Lots of comma errors (too many to mark) and also you need to fix your in-text citations. Not sure what you want to say in the second part. Good start on intro and works cited.
2. Reviewer B comments:
Your intro gets my attention and the thesis statement is clear and obvious. In the section under header “What this Means for the Future,” are you referring to XYZ from the first section? Try more specific wording in the header (this is a vague word). You’re doing great getting draft in-text citations where they are needed; and building the reference list as you go is a smart idea.
Your own reactions to the two examples provided may help you to see the value of being positive in your comments as a reviewer.
1. The first example (Reviewer A) represents what many reviewers may write when they are inexperienced, inattentive, or in a hurry. The comments are broad, vague, and include a half-hearted attempt to be positive that appears to be an afterthought in the last sentence. The reviewer tagged errors in a general way, which may result in confusion if the writer requested content-based feedback rather than proofreading.
2. The second example (Reviewer B) makes no mention of the proofreading-level errors: those can be addressed on a later draft. The reviewer employs a sandwiching technique by offering a positive comment to begin and another one to end the feedback, sandwiching the criticism in the middle, thereby making the entire passage more appealing to the writer. This review is specific about what section a suggestion is about, and uses questioning to encourage the writer to think about revising.
Moving from vague to specific comments
Students are sometimes painfully aware of how damaging a poorly-structured review can be to a writer who is inexperienced, self-conscious, and otherwise unprepared for criticism of their writing efforts. Such an awareness may cause student reviewers to be unwilling to offer specific criticism on their peers’ writing – even if it may be warranted. In other words, students may participate in peer reviews of one another’s writing reluctantly, which results in ineffective and frustrating comments that are of little use to either party. One way to vastly improve the value of your comments is to watch for – and revise – vague wording.
Activity: Is your help helpful?
Consider each of the vague comments provided in the column on the left. Work with a classmate or on your own to write more useful specific feedback in the space to the right of each example. Be prepared to discuss your revisions and impressions in class.
|Vague comments||Specific, more constructive comments|
|Hard to read (referring to a paragraph with long, complex sentences)||
|Looks good to me (referring to reader-friendly document organization, and useful transitions)||
|Seems a little short (referring to an underdeveloped explanation for something)||
|I don’t agree (referring to a lack of examples – or evidence – to convince the reader of the writer’s point)|
|Too many quotations (referring to the content of a paragraph)
|Limited reading (referring to an argumentative paper that cites only one source)
How does working with feedback improve grades?
Keeping in mind that working with feedback encompasses both providing reviews and receiving them, consider the following advantages afforded to students who actively participate in peer reviews, both as reviewers and as authors:
- Better compliance with assignment guidelines: Peer reviews necessarily involve careful comparison of draft documents with the specifications for an assignment, giving both parties opportunities to take a fresh look at assignment instructions to be sure their writing meets requirements.
- Improved style: Students report that reading and discussing work by their peers can help identify ways to be more clear and concise in their own documents. Additionally, peer comments and questions assist writers who may not know they have developed troublesome habits.
- Careful use of referencing system: Comparing one’s acknowledgment of sources in terms of frequency and accuracy to that of one’s peers may lead writers to review their own drafts more critically in order to improve their own use of citations and references.
- Practice with editing: Students may read their own drafts multiple times, creating a situation where they become desensitized to errors and weak construction in their own writing. Reviewing the work of a peer can refresh a student’s critical eye by providing opportunities to practice suggesting revisions and pointing out errors.
What other benefits come from participating in peer review?
Peer reviewing fosters trust
Writing is one of the most personal activities a person may engage in during college. Students who are unsure of their writing skills feel even more vulnerable when peers or instructors read and critique their rough drafts. Students who have some confidence in their writing may be frustrated or confused by comments and questions from peers for whom giving feedback may be unfamiliar territory. For feedback to be beneficial to your writing efforts, it must be given and received in the spirit of shared experience. When all parties involved in a peer review and commenting activity approach the task with respect for each other’s efforts and an openness to cooperation, trust in the process can develop and lead to greater learning opportunities.
Peer review prepares students for collaboration
Engineers and other technical professionals frequently find themselves working on projects as part of a team. Project team members plan, execute, and report on their work in collaboration with one another, so developing trust in peers while working on projects in college is critical to your ability to include collaboration among your professional-level skills.
This chapter approaches working with feedback on writing from the perspective of being a reviewer. As students engage in peer review activities, they develop an understanding of the responsibility one accepts when committed to giving feedback that is positive, clear, helpful, and cooperative. By examining the role an audience plays in the success of a document, students can provide useful, constructive feedback to peer writers; and by critically reviewing a document and commenting thoughtfully, student writers can better develop their own skills and confidence.
1. Read the article “Giving feedback on others’ writing” by Chris Watling and Lorelei Lingard (2019) presented on the next pages of this chapter.
2. Discuss your understanding and impressions of the article with a classmate, and take notes during your discussion.
3. Draft a memo explaining what you think are the three most important rules for providing feedback, specifically addressing the difference between giving feedback and editing. Use in-text citation and APA reference list entries for all sources you consult, including the article provided.
4. Exchange draft memos with one or more classmates and provide written feedback (do not edit your peers’ work).
5. Submit the draft containing your peer reviewers’ comments as directed by your instructor.