Peer Review

Thinking of using peer review in your writing-intensive course? Looking for some information and guidelines to get you started?

These sections follow:

Or, for a quick overview of the basic information contained in this section, we recommend checking out Peer Review and Feedback Forms (Writing Matters #7) or Peer Groups.

What is Peer Review and Why Should I Use It?

Simply stated, peer review involves sharing one's writing with a group of peer readers who offer feedback and suggestions for improvement. Most experienced instructors use some form of peer review in their UH Mānoa writing-intensive courses. They have found that getting students to respond to each other's drafts has numerous benefits. These benefits include:

  • Providing a wider audience for student-writers

  • Offering students the opportunity to receive feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of their writing

  • Teaching students to critically analyze their own writing and the writing of others

  • Motivating multiple drafts and substantial revisions

  • Familiarizing students with the format, style, criteria, and expectations of writing in the discipline studied

  • Promoting active learning

  • Building classroom community

  • Modeling the interpersonal, interactive, and group problem-solving nature of most workplace writing

  • Reducing the teacher's feedback workload

Simply telling students to respond to each other's writing, however, is seldom sufficient. Experienced instructors have found they must teach students how to respond. One particularly effective way to guide them is by developing and using feedback forms.

WHAT ARE FEEDBACK FORMS AND HOW DO I DEVELOP MY OWN?

Just as journal editors provide criteria lists to guide readers' comments and evaluations for a professional peer review, you can similarly guide your students' feedback on each others' drafts by providing them with a list of characteristics that are key to their success on the assignment. Such lists have the added benefits of:

  • promoting students' familiarity with characteristics of writing that are important in your field
  • making explicit your evaluation criteria

A feedback form is simply that list converted into an easy-to-use format designed for your students. By following a few simple steps, you can develop your own feedback forms:

  1. Decide what characteristics you're aiming for in your assignment
  2. Describe those characteristics in language your students will find useful and understandable
  3. Convert your list of characteristics into a peer feedback form (such as a criteria grid or an open-ended question format)

Here's an example. Let's say your goal is to help students recognize and construct assertion-plus-evidence arguments which are well-organized, error-free, effective, and convincing. You can devise a criteria grid (Sample 1, below) with these kinds of characteristics to guide students' feedback on their classmates' drafts. If you want fuller responses, you can leave more space for "Reader's Comments" and ask students to fill the space with specifics. Sample 2 (below) provides a more detailed criteria grid geared toward a research paper with appropriate format, style, and adequate references and citations. Such a grid provides many opportunities for more specific feedback. To prompt even fuller feedback, you can develop a list of open-ended questions. Some tips:

  • Try to avoid questions that evoke a simple "yes/no" response (i.e., "Is the essay well-developed?").
  • Follow questions up with instruction that require a more elaborated response (i.e., "Is the essay well-organized and clear? Explain the factors that you think contributed to its success or problems.")
  • The amount of space you leave for students to write their responses will indicate how much commentary you expect.

The examples listed below are genre-specific.

Instead of using paper, some instructors like to put their list of open-ended questions into a computer-based format. For example,

  • if students will be working on giving feedback outside of class time, you could send out an email version, which students fill out, sending copies of the feedback to both the author and you.
  • if you have access to a computer lab and an integrated writing environment program, you could run your peer feedback sessions using the options that come with that application.
  • Whatever form(s) you choose, you can easily modify them to fit different assignment guidelines or to emphasize additional aspects of the assignment. With feedback forms in hand, you are ready to bring peer review into the classroom.

Skip to  "How do I teach students how to respond using feedback forms?"

Sample 1: CRITERIA GRID

Weak

Satisf

Strong

CRITERIA

READER'S COMMENTS

_____ _____ __X__ Assertion:

Clarity, importance
Your position is clear. I also like the way you explored points that conflict with your main point.
__X__ _____ _____ Evidence:

relevance, strength, credibility
I don't see how your second and third pieces of evidence support your assertion.
_____ __X__ _____ Organization:

arrangement of ideas, guiding the reader
Pretty good. But the middle paragraph on the second page seemed in the wrong place.
__X__ _____ _____ Mechanics:

spelling, grammar, punctuation
Many careless mistakes. Better proofreading needed.
_____ __X__ _____ Overall effectiveness I'm not completely convinced. Your assertion still needs to be supported with better evidence.



back

Sample 2: CRITERIA GRID

Criteria Excel. Fair Poor Comments
Layout/Organization _____ _____ _____ -
Table of contents/page numbers? _____ _____ _____ -
Paper structure (organization into sections, subsections, appendices)? _____ _____ _____ -
Figures and tables (clearly labeled and professional looking)? _____ _____ _____ -
Clearly stated purpose and objective(s)? _____ _____ _____ -
Accomplished its purpose? _____ _____ _____ -
Good overall structure? Ideas ordered effectively? _____ _____ _____ -
Transitions used? _____ _____ _____ -
Introduction & conclusion focus clearly on the main point? _____ _____ _____ -
Paragraphs right length for reading (not too long or too short)? _____ _____ _____ -
Development & Support _____ _____ _____ -
Major ideas/topics received enough attention and explanation? Were well developed? _____ _____ _____ -
Supporting material persuasive? _____ _____ _____ -
Adequate references and resource material? _____ _____ _____ -
Unnecessary repetition avoided? _____ _____ _____ -
Style _____ _____ _____ -
Topic and level of formality appropriate for audience? _____ _____ _____ -
Sentences and words varied? _____ _____ _____ -
Wordiness avoided? _____ _____ _____ -
Grammar and Mechanics _____ _____ _____ -
Grammar? _____ _____ _____ -
Spelling? _____ _____ _____ -
Punctuation? _____ _____ _____ -
If you could recommend three specific changes in the writing, what would they be?

1.

2.

3.

(adapted from material found at http://ate.cc.vt.edu/eng/bse/dillaha/bse2106/peer_review.html; accessed 1/99)

back

Sample 3: OPEN-ENDED FORM (SCIENCE RESEARCH PAPER) (leave adequate space for review comments)


Author____________ Reviewer_____________

The goals of peer review are 1) to help improve your classmate's paper by pointing out strengths and weaknesses that may not be apparent to the author, and 2) to help improve editing skills.

INSTRUCTIONS

Read the paper(s) assigned to you twice, once to get an overview of the paper, and a second time to provide constructive criticism for the author to use when revising his/her paper. Answer the questions below. 

ORGANIZATION (10%)

1. Were the basic sections (Introduction, Conclusion, Literature Cited, etc.) adequate? If not, what is missing?

2. Did the writer use subheadings well to clarify the sections of the text? Explain.

3. Was the material ordered in a way that was logical, clear, easy to follow? Explain. 

CITATIONS (20%)

4. Did the writer cite sources adequately and appropriately? Note any incorrect formatting.

5. Were all the citations in the text listed in the Literature Cited section? Note any discrepancies.

GRAMMAR AND STYLE (20%)

6. Were there any grammatical or spelling problems?

7. Was the writer's writing style clear? Were the paragraphs and sentences cohesive?

CONTENT (50%)

8. Did the writer adequately summarize and discuss the topic? Explain.

9. Did the writer comprehensively cover appropriate materials available from the standard sources (e.g., UH, NMFS, FWS libraries)? If no, what's missing?

10. Did the writer make some contribution of thought to the paper, or merely summarize data or publications? Explain.

back

Sample 4: LAB REPORT (SCIENCE) OPEN-ENDED FORM (leave adequate space for review comments)

  1. Does the Introduction adequately explain the theory behind the experiment and the objective of the experiment? What is missing? What could be deleted? 

  2. Are all of the materials used listed in the Apparatus and Supplies section? Is enough detail given about the instrument's size, range, accuracy, etc.? Does a drawing illustrate the set-up? If no, what is missing? 

  3. Does the writer describe, in detail, all procedures (Procedures section)? What needs more explanation? What could be deleted? 

  4. Does the writer provide all equations used? Are they correct and appropriate? Explain. 

  5. Does the writer clearly present the results in the Results section? Are data, figures, and charts clearly labeled? Explain and list any problems. 

  6. In the Error Analysis section, does the writer discuss the cause of any significant errors? Are the errors quantified and are their influences explored? Explain. 

  7. Does the writer state his/her conclusions (in the Conclusions section) accurately and clearly? Explain. 

  8. Does the abstract summarize the whole experiment, including the findings, in no more than 100 words? What could be added or deleted? 

  9. Does the writer use phrases such as "The pressure was measured by the mercury monameter" instead of "I measured the pressure..."? (Does the writer use the passive tense as appropriate?)

back

Sample 5: SCIENCE ARTICLE OPEN-ENDED FORM (conducted like a journal review)

Reviewer's Name: ______________________________________

Title:_________________________________________________

Author(s):_____________________________________________ 

  1. Does this manuscript warrant publication in this journal?

  2. _____ Acceptable in present form

    _____ Acceptable with minor revision, no further review necessary

    _____ Major revision and a second review is required

    _____ Not acceptable (provide detailed explanation under "comments" below)

  3. Is the title satisfactory? Explain.

  4. Does the abstract adequately summarize the paper or could it be more complete or concise? Indicate suggested revision on the manuscript or under "comments" (below).

  5. Are sufficient references provided? Are they appropriate and free from obvious omissions? If not, explain.

  6. Does the paper present material effectively? Indicate suggested changes on manuscript or under "comments" (below).


    • Could the clarity or efficiency be improved by changes in the order of the paper? ____

    • Should the language or grammar be improved? _____________

    • Are there portions of the text that could be omitted? ____________________

  7. Are there errors in factual information, logic, analysis, statistics, or mathematics? ______ Address these issues in detail in the "comments" (below). Suggest improvements.

  8. Mechanical Errors (address on the manuscript)

  9. ____ Figures or tables improperly or incompletely labeled or titled or not cited

    ____ Misuse of references (failure to cite, reference needed and not provided)

    ____ Other:______________ 

  10. Comments (Attach additional pages as necessary)

(found at www.che.umr.edu/Che/faculty/dludlow/fall97/243/prrep.html; accessed 1/99) 

back

Sample 6: BUSINESS WRITING FEEDBACK FORM (MEMO) (leave adequate space for review comments)

  1. Does the memo begin with the most important information?
  2. Does the memo build rapport by involving the reader in the opening paragraph?
  3. Does the memo provide sufficient, relevant, and interesting details? Is it focused and brief?
  4. Does the memo focus each paragraph on one idea?
  5. Is the memo informed and accurate, demonstrating the author's grasp of the situation?
  6. Is the final paragraph calling for a specific action? Is it brief? Does it build good will?
  7. Is the memo format correct, with concise subject line, initialed name, and correct spacing?
  8. Is the information arranged (indentations and numbering) in a way that makes it easy to skim and still get central information?

(found at http://www.goshen.edu/english/critique.html#anchor495275; accessed 1/99)

back

Sample 7: BUSINESS WRITING FEEDBACK FORM (COVER LETTER) (leave adequate space for review comments)

  1. Does the first paragraph identify who the author is, briefly state why he/she is writing, and refer to how he/she found out about the job?

  2. Does the second paragraph highlight specific strengths, special abilities, or features of the résumé to be noted?

  3. Does the third paragraph make a specific request of the reader or address what action is to be taken?

  4. Does the letter provide sufficient, relevant, and interesting details to make the request convincing?

  5. Is the letter brief and focused? What elements could be eliminated?

  6. Does the writer achieve his or her purpose? Does it make you want to consider the résumé more carefully?

  7. Is the tone of the letter courteous without being too formal, relaxed without being too familiar?

  8. Is the letter's form appropriate (heading, spacing, greeting, etc.)? Is the letter addressed to a specific person rather than a general "Dear Madam/Sir"?

(found at http://www.goshen.edu/english/critique.html#anchor495275; accessed 1/99)

back

Sample 8: BUSINESS WRITING FEEDBACK FORM (RÉSUMÉ) (leave adequate space for review comments)

  1. Does the résumé contain the necessary features for the position (name/address, position desired, education, work experience, achievements, relevant personal information, references)?

  2. Does the résumé contain only essential, relevant information for the position desired?

  3. Does the résumé emphasize applicant's strengths?

  4. Does the résumé emphasize what is unique about this person's experience? Does it demonstrate a common interest or ability (leadership, teaching experience, dedication, creativity, etc.)?

  5. What additional information might you like to have about this applicant?

  6. If you were leading an interview based on this résumé, what are two questions you might ask?

  7. Does the résumé look neat (appropriate spacing, clear headings, good quality paper)?

  8. Is the résumé easy to read?

  9. Is the information presented as concisely as possible?

  10. Are the elements of each section of the résumé presented in a parallel format and style (begin w/ active verbs, put date in consistent place, use of parallelism of elements, consistent underlining or italics)?

(found at http://www.goshen.edu/english/critique.html#anchor495275; accessed 1/99)

back

Sample 9: ESSAY ON FICTION OPEN-ENDED FORM (leave adequate space for review comments)

  1. What is the central idea of the paper?

  2. Why is the central idea an arguable point?

  3. What are the points (events) from the novel used to support the central idea?

  4. Do you find the points listed in #3 convincing or not? Why?

  5. What points of support might you have used to make this argument that the writer did not use? (If there is no identifiable central idea, what do you think the writer is trying to argue?)

  6. Is the conclusion effective?

  7. Does it get beyond the story and relate the argument to the writer or society today? How so? (If not, can you think of a conclusion one could make based on this paper?)

(found at http://www.ltcc.cc.ca.us/programs/english/peeredit.htm#PGID2; accessed 1/99)

back

Sample 10: CREATIVE WRITING OPEN-ENDED FORM (leave adequate space for review comments)

  1. Paraphrase the plot of the story in one or two sentences.

  2. Paraphrase the theme of the piece in one or two sentences.

  3. Describe the narrator's point of view. Is the point of view consistent? If not, where and how does it shift?

  4. Describe the tone of the piece. Is the tone consistent? If not, point out where it wavers.

  5. Are the characters believable? Why or why not?

  6. What more would you like to know about the characters?

  7. Were there any parts of the story that were confusing or unclear?

  8. If the writer uses dialogue, is it clear who is speaking? Does the writer describe how the speaker says the dialogue?

  9. Has the writer dramatized rather than summarized the experiences in the story?

  10. What parts of the piece are most vivid for you?

  11. What questions did you have when you finished reading the piece?

  12. Anything else?

(modified from form found at http://www.ltcc.cc.ca.us/programs/english/peeredit.htm#PGID2; accessed 1/99)

back


HOW DO I TEACH STUDENTS HOW TO RESPOND USING FEEDBACK FORMS?

Even with a feedback form in hand, students will not necessarily know how to respond to peer drafts. Most students need to be taught how to give constructive, useful feedback.

One approach:



  1. Hand out copies of a sample completed assignment (perhaps written by a student in the previous semester).

  2. Discuss the criteria on the feedback form so that the language becomes meaningful to everyone.

  3. Show how you would apply the criteria by "thinking out loud" as you read the first paragraph of the paper.

  4. Ask students to read the paper and complete the feedback form (alternatively, they can complete the form out of class).

  5. Discuss the responses as a class.

Student responses such as "This is good" or "This is bad" are too general to be helpful and don't give a writer enough information on how or what to improve. Show students how to go beyond generalities by reinforcing appropriate and effective comments as students offer them in discussion. Encourage them to specify what needs improvement and what works well. (For ground rules/guidelines for peer response, see below).

Practice sessions are important for the success of peer review. They give you a chance to clarify the criteria and even aspects of the assignment if that proves necessary.

Once your students become familiar with how to respond appropriately using peer feedback forms, they are ready to try it out on their own drafts.

HOW DO I SET UP AND FACILITATE PEER REVIEW SESSIONS?

Okay, you've developed your feedback forms and taught your students how to respond. Now, you're ready to run your peer review session in class.

Have students bring copies of their drafts to class, break them into groups, pass out the feedback forms, and away they go.

Below you'll find some Frequently Asked Questions about setting up and facilitating peer review sessions:

  • "How should I set up the peer groups?"
  • "How many students should I have per group?"
  • "Should peer feedback groups do their work in or out of class?"
  • "What if my students are uncomfortable showing their paper to their peers?"
  • "What do students do after they've finished responding on the forms?"
  • "What do I do while they're in their groups?"

Once the students have gotten feedback on their writing, the final step is to help students use that feedback.

"How should I set up the peer groups?"

If you assign group work throughout the semester, you can have students in the same groups or in new groups each time. Maintaining the same groups allow students to get to know their classmates better, to be more confident around each other, and perhaps be more invested in the success of their peers in the group. Placing students in new groups each time gives students exposure to many reader perspectives during the semester.

When forming the groups, you might consider creating groups that have a balance among men and women, age groups, ethnicities, first languages, etc. Another method is to assign each student to respond to someone who is working on a similar topic/assignment. Other instructors prefer random assignments. You may wish to vary and experiment with group member set-up to see what works best for you and your students.

"How many students should I have per group?"

It depends on a number of factors, including your purpose, the length of the draft to be read, the type of feedback activity you have planned (e.g., informal group discussion, feedback form, essay-style written report, etc.), the number of peer reviews you want each student to receive, etc. Below are some examples:

  • You want students to read or listen to each other's short drafts (of five pages or less) in class and comment on general strengths and weaknesses via feedback forms. Because you want them to receive responses from at least two readers, you choose to set them up in groups of 3 or 4 students (45-55 minutes).
  • For longer assignments or for more detailed analysis, you can have students take home a classmate's draft to review and comment on.

"Should peer feedback groups do their work in or out of class?"

Either way! Again, it depends on a number of factors, including your purpose, the length of the draft to be read, the type of feedback activity you have planned (e.g., informal group discussion, feedback form, formal written report, etc), the number of peer reviews you want each student to receive, etc. For example,

  • If each member is to take a 5-7 page draft and write a 1-2 page reaction on its organization and development of content, it would probably take far too long to complete the assignment in class and would be better left for more serious time and attention outside of class.
  • If, however, the task is for groups to comment on appropriate format, language, and detail on a short lab report draft, via a feedback form, the instructor may choose to have the groups work in class.
  • Also, if it is an activity where the students may need extra help or guidance from the instructor, such activities should be structured for the classroom.
  • And, of course, there is always the option of having the peer feedback work take place both in and out of class. For example, students could take copies of a draft and a feedback form home as homework, and then the next class can be used as a time to discuss the feedback, make suggestions, do some in-class revisions, and get feedback on those revisions.

"What if my students are uncomfortable showing their paper to their peers?"

Sharing writing with others can produce anxiety for many students. Instructors often set out response ground rules or guidelines (perhaps class-generated ones) so that the feedback students receive from others is constructive, useful, and pertinent. One effective rule: "Never say 'This is bad.' Instead, describe what confused you or what you didn't understand." Some instructors distribute drafts anonymously (student names deleted) to reduce student tension.

"What do students do after they've finished responding on the forms?"

Instead of just simply handing back the feedback form, you might set aside class time or encourage them to discuss their responses with the writer. There is always the possibility that the writer might misunderstand the comments the peer reviewer made, and so allowing time for discussion will allow time for clarification and elaboration.

"What do I do while they're in their groups?"

Some instructors like to visit each group to listen to the comments students give each other. In general, it's not a good idea to interfere too much with the normal functioning of the group or the task at hand. You do have to keep an eye on things, though, intervening if a group becomes completely dysfunctional (having to reassign students), strays off task, or is having difficulty.

If groups are functioning well, you can always turn your attention to other matters. For example, you could spend the class period checking students' thesis statements or outlines (assigned in advance) and still have time to answer any questions or concerns that may arise from students in their peer feedback groups.

TIPS FOR PEER RESPONSE

Below are a number of suggestions. It may be helpful to discuss some of these tips in your practice sessions for guidance or include them as reminders on your peer feedback forms.

GROUND RULES/GUIDELINES FOR PEER REVIEW

  • Read a draft all the way through before you begin to comment on it.

  • Give yourself enough time to read and respond.

  • If something on the feedback form is unclear, ask the instructor.

  • Point out the strengths of the draft.

  • When discussing areas that need improvement, be nice. Offer appropriate, constructive comments from a reader's point of view.

  • Make comments text-specific, referring specifically to the writer's draft (NO "rubber stamps" such as "awkward" or "unclear" or "vague," which are too general to be helpful).

  • Don't overwhelm the writer with too much commentary. Stick to the major issues on the feedback form that are problematic.

  • Make sure your suggestions are reasonable (i.e., don't suggest that they totally rewrite the paper because you didn't agree with the author's point of view or didn't like the topic).

  • If something appears too complicated to write in the commentary, just mention that you have something that you would like to talk to the writer about when you discuss the draft afterwards.

  • Before giving your written comments to the author, reread your comments to make sure they are clear and make sense.

"As a peer reviewer, your job is not to provide answers. You raise questions; the writer makes the choices. You act as a mirror, showing the writer how the draft looks to you and pointing our areas which need attention." - Sharon Williams

APPROPRIATE, CONSTRUCTIVE COMMENTS

  • Be respectful and considerate of the writer's feelings.

  • Use "I" statements.

  • Offer suggestions, not commands.

  • Raise questions from a reader's point of view, points that may not have occurred to the writer.

  • Phrase comments clearly and carefully so that the writer can easily understand what needs to be improved.

  • Make sure comments are constructive and specific (not "This paper is confusing. It keeps saying the same things over and over again" but rather "It sounds like paragraph five makes the same point as paragraphs 2 and 3.").

  • Avoid turning the writer's paper into YOUR paper.

Final tip: Although it might not be on the feedback form, you can always ask the writer if there is something he or she wants you to comment specifically on in the paper. (This is related to developing writing awareness and self-assessment - see Writing Matters #5 for more information on this topic).

HOW CAN I GET MY STUDENTS TO USE THE PEER FEEDBACK THEY RECEIVE?

The final step is getting students to use the feedback they obtain from the forms. Here are several activities that may be helpful after students give and receive feedback:

  • Students briefly summarize in writing the feedback they received and jot down the changes they plan to make in their upcoming revision.

  • Students submit a cover memo along with their finished writing in which they explain how they revised in response to the reviews they received.

  • Students fill out a feedback form on their own draft. Then they compare their self-analysis with the peer feedback they received and make plans for the next round of revisions.

  • Students use the feedback forms as a checklist before turning in their next drafts.

  • Students discuss the feedback they received during teacher conferences or in their journals to help develop strategies for improvement.

Note: Students need not change everything just because a reader thinks they should. However, they should consider all comments seriously before dismissing any.

HOW HAS PEER REVIEW BEEN USED IN OTHER WI-CLASSES AT UH MANOA?

Examples of the Use of Peer Responding at UH Mānoa

HOW HAS PEER REVIEW BEEN EXPLAINED AND SUPPORTED NATIONALLY?

For more explanation and ideas for using peer review, visit "How Can I Get the Most Out of Peer Review?

HOW HAVE LOCAL INSTRUCTORS DEPICTED PEER REVIEW IN PEER-REVIEWED JOURNALS?

For an example of modeling peer review for students and representing it to them as "intellectual teamwork, visit "Teaching Intellectual Teamwork in WAC Courses through Peer Review"