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Giving Feedback for Peer Review

Peer review is a common stage in writing projects. Teachers include it because it's useful for students to see how other people read their work. The point isn't to grade a peer's work, but to offer insight about audience reactions. Good peer reviews answer questions like "do readers understand the points I'm trying to get across, or are they reading me wrong?" and "am I using the right arguments and evidence for the audience I'm trying to reach?"

Common misconceptions on both reviewer and reviewee sides, however, often keep peer review from being as effective as it can be. Students doing the reviewing often resort to commenting on grammar or punctuation because they're not sure what to focus on, and those concerns are usually easily spotted and corrected. Likewise, students getting reviews may not know how to take feedback on board in revision, or they may ignore peer feedback in favor of feedback from the instructor because they view instructor feedback as more accurate or more important.

This page addresses some key ways students can be better peer reviewers in class.

Being a Good Peer Review Partner

This section discusses some strategies for how to comment on a partner's work so your feedback is most effective.

  • Mix criticism and praise.
Feedback that only tells your partner about what's wrong can be hurtful, but more importantly, it's usually not useful. How can your partner improve their work if they only know what you didn't like or what was unsuccessful? If you can identify times when they are doing well, you can point those out as models for improving the parts that aren't so successful.
  • Ask questions.
Make sure you understand what your partner has already done and what they are maybe planning on doing in future work sessions. If they already know they're giving you a draft with no conclusion, and they plan to finish the conclusion tomorrow, then you can save some time and energy telling them they don't have a conclusion. You can also ask questions about audience and purpose: who does your partner think their audience is? how have they worked to target their writing to that audience? where do they think they are best articulating their purpose?
  • Read the paper.
If you have the time, try to read the paper once without making a single comment. Then, after you've gotten a good idea of what your partner is trying to say and what the paper is all about, you can go back through and start giving feedback. This is usually helpful in time management; if you comment without reading the entire paper first, you may find yourself making detailed comments that get addressed in later paragraphs. It also helps in finding areas that are really strong, so when you're commenting you can refer to those.
  • Write out your thoughts.
Just like you would show your work in solving an equation, you will help your partner understand your comments if you write more than "explain more here." What drew your attention to the section you're commenting on? What questions did the section leave you with, and how do you understand the material as it's currently written?
  • Describe, evaluate, and suggest.
This strategy follows from the previous one; the "describe, evaluate, suggest" framework comes from the writing researchers at Eli Review (2014). In short, this pattern of commenting encourages reviewers to 1. describe what they are reading and understanding from the text, 2. evaluate how well the text is working based on the rubric, assignment sheet, or class material, and 3. suggest next steps for improvement. Putting these three moves together in a comment helps your partner understand where you're coming from, connect your feedback to the class rather than "opinion," and move forward with the writing.
  • Sum up.
It can be hard to use feedback if it takes the form of several comments spread out across many pages. Where do you even start, and what is important? You can help your peer review partner by summing up your comments with a paragraph or two of holistic feedback. This is feedback that comes at the end of the paper and describes your general impressions of the paper as well as the major items your partner can focus on in revision; it usually focuses on big ideas rather than smaller concerns. It's also a good opportunity to comment on things that weren't in the paper itself but that arose for you as you read (i.e., opportunities for more research, an argument that wasn't made but that seems related to the content, etc.).

Using Existing Guidelines

When you're giving feedback in peer review for a class, the best way to structure your feedback is usually by using the rubric or assignment sheet. This helps you give the most attention to the parts that are going to help your partner the most, even though you're not actually grading the work. Below, we discuss some strategies for using a rubric or an assignment sheet to help you give feedback.

  • Look for weight.
The rubric will usually show how many points are given to a certain category. If "Argument" is worth 40 points and "Organization" is worth 30, but "Mechanics" is worth 10, you should spend most of your time looking at the kinds of things described under "Argument" and "Organization." (If you only have an assignment sheet or don't have explicit values to look at, use assignment criteria instead; the most important criteria will usually come first in a list and will be mentioned more often throughout the sheet. And if all else fails, ask your teacher!)
  • Look for values.
Your teacher will explain what they value in writing on the rubric and/or on the assignment sheet. Items that are bolded, criteria or questions that appear more than once, and criteria that your teacher has mentioned explicitly in class while going over the assignment are all likely to be important to your teacher. More importantly, those stated values explain how students can best complete the assignment or meet expectations. When you're evaluating your partner's work, you can use these stated values to ask yourself questions about how effective the writing is (i.e., if the rubric says an Excellent paper "effectively synthesizes source material," you can ask yourself questions like, "is this paper putting multiple sources in conversation with each other, or is the paper mostly reporting information from one source?")
  • Create a checklist.
Using the two strategies above, you can make a checklist for yourself to use as you give feedback on your partner's paper. This can help you manage your time, especially if you are expected to complete peer review in class. If you know that a few categories are the most important to the assignment, and you know what questions to ask yourself about those categories based on items on the rubric or assignment sheet, then you can look specifically for answers to those questions in the paper. (We suggested reading a paper through once in its entirety before commenting in the previous section, but we know that's not always possible; sometimes you have to do the best you can with limited time, and this is a good way to do that.)

Reference:

Eli Review. (2014, December 19). Describe-evaluate-suggest: Giving helpful feedback, with Bill Hart-Davidson [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KzdBRRQhYv4