HELPFUL HINTS FOR PEER REVIEW
In your role as peer reviewer, your main job is to provide constructive comments, pointing out strengths and weaknesses, that will help another student improve her/himself as a writer. Although there is no set recipe for how to review a piece of writing, I am providing some guidelines that may help you successfully carry out this assigned task. You are by no means obliged to follow this model. I simply offer it as one way to hone your skills as a peer reviewer.
- Skim the paper to see how it is organized. Are there any breaks or gaps in the organization? If so, identify the breaks and try to explain why you believe that they exist. If you have some ideas about what to do to eliminate them, make supportive and nonjudgmental suggestions.
- Now go back and carefully study the first paragraph. Consider the thesis, purpose, and audience for the paper. Are they clearly indicated in this introductory paragraph? If not, propose ways to clarify these crucial aspects of her/his composition.
- Read each paragraph one-by-one. Is it unified, coherent, and developed? If not, ask the writer how s/he might go about better focusing or organizing the ideas in the paragraph, so that they are less scattered and fragmented. If you have some specific thoughts, provide them in a constructive manner.
- Are the paragraphs smoothly and logically connected to one another with transitions? If there are logical gaps between the paragraphs, ask the writer how one paragraph is linked to the other and how that linkage could be strengthened or made more apparent.
- Closely study the last paragraph. Does it tie together the major ideas presented in the body of the paper into a clear, well-organized conclusion? If not, question the writer about how s/he might summarize and bring her/his paper to a logical ending that is consistent with her/his thesis, purpose, and audience.
- Examine the sentences one-by-one. Are any sentences confusing to you? If so, try to describe your confusion and offer ways to more clearly present these ideas.
- Are there any mechanical, grammatical, or spelling problems in the paper? If so, point them out to the writer.
- In your opinion, has the writer fulfilled the requirements of the assignment? If s/he has not, explain what you believe to be missing. For example, s/he may not have supported her/his sociological analysis with evidence, examples, or quotes from her/his fieldnotes or interviews. In another instance, s/he may have incompletely described the main sociological concepts used to interpret her/his results. Additionally, s/he may have neglected to include certain parts of the paper. In all cases, make the writer aware of what needs to be added.
- Describe in writing two major strengths of the paper.
- Finally, write a summary paragraph that tells the writer what you think the thesis, purpose, and audience for the paper are. Explain what you liked best about the paper. Then describe at least two features of the paper that need the most improvement along with specific recommendations for making those improvements.
As you may have realized, this strategy for peer review starts with what are commonly called “higher order concerns” (organization, logic, thesis) and moves to “lower order concerns” (mechanics, grammar, spelling). In many cases, your focus will be on “higher order concerns,” since clarity, consistency, and coherence constitute essential ingredients to the successful communication of your ideas. Once these features have been addressed, the “lower order concerns” become important.
Whatever peer review techniques you adopt, both the writer and I expect you to carry out your task in a serious and respectful manner. It is only with the input of others that we can begin to cultivate our skills as writers.