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Writers' Center

Eastern Washington University

Revising Your Paper

Peer Review

All writers need feedback. At any stage of the writing process, whether at the very beginning, during the drafting stage, or even after making extensive revisions, response from other writers can help you make decisions about how to proceed with your college paper, creative writing, a scholarship application, a cover letter for a job, or any other kind of writing. This process of sharing your writing with others in order to receive helpful feedback is called peer review

The Peer Review Process

At the EWU Writers’ Center, we like to think of writing not so much as a product but as a process. We understand that the writing you present in a collaborative session with us is not finished (though sometimes it is pretty close, with just a few tweaks required before turning in a paper—even so, if you think about it, any writing can be revised further to make it better!), and that there will be further revision after the session. We strive, therefore, to treat the writer’s work as a work in progress. This is an important mindset to have when doing peer review with others, whether in class or informally with friends.

All you need for peer review is a reader or readers (in a class it’s not uncommon to work in a peer review group of 3 or 4 students). Peer review sessions are often planned by an instructor with specific instructions for the participants to follow. Whether you are an instructor in need of ideas to help students, or a student (or any writer, actually!) in search of feedback, here are some suggestions for staging a collaborative peer review session and gaining valuable insight from readers. 

First, decide how to conduct your peer review. In a group, it is common to ask the writer to remain quiet while the group participants discuss the writing. The writer listens and takes notes, and waits to ask the group questions or to ask for further suggestions. While the group should focus on providing constructive criticism with the intention of identifying what the writer is doing well and offer some suggestions for revision, the writer should not become defensive but should instead ask questions and make note of reactions, and act on what they find particularly valuable or insightful. It’s important to note that the writing belongs to the writer, and any decisions of what to do in a revision are up to the writer.

In a less formal setting, a writer and reader (or a group of readers) may discuss the writing together and talk about ideas for revision. And, if the peer review takes place in a different type of setting—perhaps one friend emails a draft to another friend for feedback—the goal should still be to help the writer identify what’s working well as well as other areas which may not yet seem as clear or polished.

Questions for Peer Review

Listed below are some ideas for a peer review partner or group to consider when providing feedback:

Think FIRST about:

  • Audience: Who is the intended audience (readers) of this writing? Would this writing appeal to a specific audience more than to another? Has the writer focused this writing for their specific audience or audiences? What suggestions would you make to think further about audience?
  • Purpose: What is the purpose of this writing? Is it meant, for example, to inform an audience, or to entertain, or to persuade? Is it academic writing or creative writing or professional writing? Does the writing conform to the rules of this particular type of writing? What suggestions would you make to think further about purpose?
  • Response: What is your initial response to the writing or to its topic? What are your first thoughts upon reading it? Does it make you consider or reconsider an idea, a reading, a problem, an issue, or an image or object in a new or unexpected way? Does it provide insight in a way that seems unique to this writer?
  • Development: As you consider the writing, do you see opportunities for developing an idea or a viewpoint or an interpretation further? Which part of the writing seems at this point to be most developed, clear, and satisfying? Point out briefly where this is and why you find this part to be working well. Conversely, which part of the writing do you perhaps find to be less developed, clear, or satisfying? Point out briefly where this is and why you find this part to be working less well. Discuss an idea or two for filling in this gap.
  • Organization: As you consider the writing, do you see opportunities for organizing the writing in a way which would help readers understand or enjoy or be persuaded by the writing more, or which would better develop the focus or main idea of the writing? Does the writing, if it is an essay, for example, develop an interesting, informative introduction? Is there a clear thesis or main idea present in the writing? Do the paragraphs develop the main idea? Are the paragraphs organized clearly with transition words and phrases? Are the connections between paragraphs and ideas clear? Is there a conclusion which sums up the writing in a clear, effective, thought-provoking way? Discuss some ideas for filling in any gaps you see at this stage of the writing. Keep in mind that the writing is in progress, so it is understandable if a research essay, for example, does not yet have a conclusion.

Think NEXT about:

  • Sentences: As you consider the writing, do you see opportunities for writing clearer, crisper sentences? Are there sentences which strike you as working well to express an idea or to make a persuasive point? Point out briefly where this is and why you find this sentence to be working well. Conversely, identify a sentence which may not yet be working well to express an idea or make a persuasive point in a clear, effective way.
  • Grammar: As you consider the writing, do you see opportunities for eliminating a pattern of error which the writer might be making at this stage of the writing? Do you notice errors in spelling, punctuation, or other types of issues which may cause readers to notice errors instead of the writer’s ideas? Keep in mind this is a work in progress and it is the writer’s job to edit it, but do point out for the writer if you notice errors which occur more than a few times. If possible, discuss some approaches to identifying and correcting errors. Consider consulting a writing handbook or website together. Some resources for grammar are provided here.
  • Formatting: As you consider the writing, if this is writing which is required to follow a style sheet and document the use of sources, do you see opportunities for correcting formatting errors or errors in documenting sources in text or in a list of references? Keep in mind this is a work in progress and it is the writer’s job to edit it, but do point out for the writer if you notice gaps or errors which occur in the writing. If possible, discuss some approaches to formatting and documenting correctly. Consider consulting a writing handbook or website together. Some resources for formatting sources are provided here.