CCWF Critique Group – Guidelines for Peer Reviews: a writing resource

Pacific Lutheran University
Takoma, WA

Guidelines for Peer Reviews

Why Peer Review? Most writers depend upon feedback from good readers to improve their work, and learn from reading and commenting upon other author’s texts. We encourage these habits and skills at PLU, and ask you to “Peer Review” (review and critique each other’s work, especially in draft form) in many classes. Peer Review is taken seriously: your role is to help the author improve the piece and the quality of work it represents. You can, for example, improve a work’s:

  • focus by providing feedback on what you understand the author to be saying so that the author can clarify if necessary.
  • soundness by evaluating strengths and weaknesses in the argumentation and evidence, and by providing well thought-out challenges and objections to claims.
  • structure by helping the author clarify the ordering of her thoughts.
  • depth by suggesting other evidence, alternate perspectives, or implications for the author to consider.
  • style by helping the author identify places where voice, mechanics, and other stylistic elements work, and where they do not.

Approaching Peer Review, and reading the draft:

  1. Take it seriously. Doing and receiving Peer Reviews make you a better reader/writer/thinker and contribute substantially to your overall success at the university. Besides, these Peer Reviews are graded.
  2. Know the assignment. Student writers often misunderstand the assignment or write on a tangent taken from the assignment. Make sure that you understand the assignment, so that you can help keep the author on track.
  3. Intend to be constructive. Approach the piece with the intention of building it up, not tearing it apart, and as you would want a reviewer to critique your own work.
  4. Familiarize yourself with the piece. Read the piece over once before beginning to comment so that you get a feel for it generally before making specific suggestions.
  5. Make notes on the paper. This will help you and the author locate your points as you write, and the author reads, your Peer Review.
  6. Understand the piece before critiquing it, or at least understand what it is that you don’t get. Make sure that you read carefully. If, after a careful reading and re-reading, you can’t understand what the author is doing or saying, say so (and point out where and why)!

Writing a Peer Reviews for Writ. 101 01, Healing (adapted from Susan K. Nelson). Peer Reviews of Portfolio Assignments are two pages in length, typed and double spaced (12 font). Two copies are due the next class period after the first draft of the essay (check the syllabus for exact dates). It is critical that you attend class on both the day that the first draft is due and the day that the peer critique is due, so that you will be available to exchange papers with your partner. Absolutely no peer critiques are accepted late without prior arrangements. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Be fair and charitable, but honest. Ignoring obvious flaws will neither help your grade nor aid your author.
  • Approach the paper on its own terms. This is not the time for you to set forth your own position on the topic or issue.
  • Be specific. Point out specific strengths and weaknesses. Give very specific comments, criticisms, and compliments. Be sure to identify (by using page numbers, quotations, clear references to the paper.) the exact sections of the paper that you are critiquing. Give very specific recommendations and raise specific objections if they will be helpful.
  • Focus on substance. Address the substantive aspects of your author’s work. For academic writing, primary elements are thesis, arguments and evidence, structure, and conclusion. Isolate the thesis (or note the lack thereof); locate the supporting arguments and examine for strength, support, and plausibility; identify the structure of the argument and examine for effectiveness and logical progression; locate the conclusion and judge the degree of support provided for it, as well as the relation it has to the original thesis. In other assignments plot, voice, graphic elements or other aspects may be substantial elements of your attention.
  • Call attention only to substantive problems with mechanics. These are drafts, so much of the language is going to be revised. Don’t spend time correcting every punctuation or spelling error. If certain errors predominate or seem particularly problematic, call attention to them generally. (e.g., “It looks like you need to review the punctuation rules for using quotation marks.”)
  • Write well. Reviews need to be clear, organized, and coherent; examples of the kind of writing that you are encouraging in your peers. Lead by example.
  • Write in third person. You’re not writing a letter: avoid addressing the author directly with “you” or using second person (i.e. “you”) verbs. It helps to think of writing the review for an audience other than the author.