Becoming a Strong Peer Reviewer

Learning Objectives

  • Describe techniques for effective peer review

The Value of Peer Review

Revision is not always an individual process. In fact, getting an outside perspective can be one of the best ways to see what parts of your work need revision. Having a professor or writing expert do this seems like an obvious choice, but it can also be valuable to have a classmate or peer perform a review as well.

A helpful peer can help you with many aspects of the revision process, including:

  • Talking through/developing ideas verbally
  • Pointing out areas that make sense to you (the writer), but don’t make sense to readers
  • Identifying small errors that you may have missed
  • Giving you an idea of how your audience will respond to your draft
  • Showing you areas of your work that are strong and effective
    Cartoon of two people looking at a paper.

    Figure 1. Peer review is an essential piece of the writing process. A fresh set of eyes can give a different perspective and catch errors or discrepancies previously unnoticed (even if it does seem scary at first!).

Despite these benefits, beginning writers are often fearful or suspicious of peer review for two reasons.

First, they fear sharing their work in its early stages. The early drafts of most essays are usually underdeveloped, incomplete, and filled with errors, so it can be embarrassing to show this writing to others.

Second, they have had bad or unhelpful experiences with peer review. Sometimes reviewers are afraid to offend their partner, so they just say “great job!” instead of giving helpful feedback. Or reviewers can veer in the opposite direction, loading up their partner’s paper with overly harsh critiques.

Effective Peer Review

Becoming a strong, helpful peer reviewer takes work. In the writing workshop, you will practice giving helpful peer review comments on another person’s essay draft.

Here are some best practices for paper review:

  • Ask about the assignment first. You cannot properly review an essay without knowing the purpose, intended audience, and assignment parameters.
  • Don’t edit. Reviewing does not mean that you are marking or fixing every error in your partner’s essay.
  • Don’t rewrite. You are making suggestions and helping your partner generate ideas, but ultimately the work of revision is the responsibility of the writer.
  • Note both strengths and weaknesses. This provides well-rounded feedback on the essay, giving your partner confidence in their work while also helping them see issues they have overlooked.
  • Be specific. If you tell your partner, “Your essay has some grammar problems,” how are they any better off than they were before? A helpful reviewer points out specifics and explains issues clearly.

Try It

For each of these questions, imagine that you have been asked to peer review a classmate’s essay.



Writing Workshop

Open your Working Document template and find the “Becoming a Strong Peer Reviewer” heading.

  1. Read through the following assignment and sample student essay. While reading, start thinking about how you could provide feedback on the draft:
    • Assignment:Choose any pop-culture artifact, for example, a video, movie, song, album, dance, advertisement, or meme. Then, in a 700-word essay, rhetorically analyze that artifact using ethos, pathos, and logos, making a clear claim about what the artifact is conveying to its audience.Be sure that you are providing specific evidence from the “text” (your chosen artifact) throughout your essay to support your claims.To receive full credit, your essay must mention all three rhetorical appeals.Your audience is composed of early-college-educated adults that are familiar with the rhetorical appeals. They are generally familiar with American pop culture but may require some explanation of your artifact.
    • Essay: “Candies: Advertising Pregnancy Prevention” (Paragraphs numbered for peer review)
      1. The brand Candie’s is most commonly associated with teen fashion from the 1990s and early 2000s. The company also has a foundation, the Candie’s Foundation, which aims to reduce teen pregnancy rates in America. The foundation has been around for a few years. To raise awareness for this issue, the foundation released a number of celebrity-endorsed print ads throughout the early to mid-2000s that attempted to dissuade teens from becoming pregnant. One of these ads, featuring pop singer Fergie (she was in the band the Black Eyed peas), uses ethos, pathos, and logos to convey the idea that pregnancy is not glamorous or cool to keep teens from becoming pregnant. While the ad is successful in causing fear in its audience, it is ultimately ineffective because it is overly judgmental of teen parents. It is a cool-looking ad, but it might not be the best thing to put out there.
      2. Ethos first. When the ad was released, in the early 2000s, Fergie was a extreme famous pop star and a member of the group the Black Eyed Peas. The ad is trying to make the argument that teen pregnancy is not glamorous, and it strengthens this argument by appealing to Fergie’s ethos. As someone rich, famous, and beautiful, Fergie has credibility as a representation of the good, fun life. Why is this important? As previously mentioned, the words of the ad are in quotes, implying that they are Fergie’s words. This adds ethos to the words by making the target audience—teenage girls—feel like Fergie is talking to them, not like some impersonal organization is talking to them. The use of Fergie in this ad is a good rhetorical choice, since it makes the message of the ad more personal and credible. Is there anyone else they could have used? Maybe. But Fergie is good for the time.
      3. The ad is divided evenly into two halves, and the left half is just a black and white picture of Fergie with a pink bar at the bottom listing the Candie’s Foundation’s website. Fergi looks cool and glam in the photo. Wearing jewelry, makeup, and well-styled hair. On the right half of the ad, there’s this quote kind of thing that reads, “Not really the way you pictured your first crib, huh? with a photo of a typical baby’s crib underneath. By using quotation marks around these words, the ad implies that they are Fergie’s words. Taken as a whole, the ad is communicating the idea that if a teenager chooses to have a baby, they will miss out on the experience of having their own cool “crib.”. This is reinforced by more text that reads, “Raising a baby can cost over $10,000 a year; one night could cost you more than you think.” This sounds kinda high but might be accurate. By examining the rhetorical appeals functioning in the ad, it becomes clear that the Candie’s Foundation is communicating the idea that teen pregnancy is something to be afraid of, since it will prevent a person from having a fun, carefree life.
      4. Logos is also present in the ad, mostly through its written text and the image of the baby crib. The logical argument of the words, “Not really the way you pictured your first crib, huh?” is that if a teenager has a baby they will have to spend all their money on the pregnancy, delivery, and care of the child. This will make them miss out on fun teenage and young adult experiences like fixing up their own “crib.” Also, by citing the statistic that “raising a baby can cost over $10,000 a year,” the ad makes the audience logically grasp the financialof parenthood. The ad also uses pathos to communicate its. By referencing the idea of the “first crib,” the foundation is appealing to the shared values and experiences. Many teenagers dream of the day they will move out of their parents’ home and have their own place, so the ad capitalizing on those aspirations. Also, the ad uses fear to convey its message. The words, “one night could cost you more than you think,” are ominous and could cause discomfort and uneasiness in the audience. Also, at the bottom of the ad, it says that the candies foundation provides information on the “devastating consequences” of pregnancy. These are loaded words, implying that pregnancy will have horrible, negative consequences on a person’s life, again appealing to pathos to cause fear.
      5. Overall, the ad is trying to convey the idea that becoming pregnant as a teenager will destroy a person’s life and prevent them from fulfilling their dreams! While the ad would be effective to some members of its audience, it also could alienate some of its audience. The ad excessively stresses the negative effects of pregnancy in a way that could seem offensive to some people. By leaning too heavily on fear tactics and communicating a tone of judgmentalness on those who become pregnant, the ad loses effectiveness.
  2. Provide comments on the essay, organizing your comments into the following four criteria. Make specific references to sentences and passages where appropriate, and employ the “Best Practices” stated above as you review.
    1. Organization (Do all sentences support the paragraph’s topic sentence, and do all paragraphs support the thesis? Is the paper organized in a way that will make sense to readers?)
    2. Focus (Is the paper focused on the assignment? Does it follow the same thought throughout the paper, or does it jump from subject to subject?)
    3. Style (Will the paper appeal to its intended audience? Is the writing at an appropriate level for the target audience?)
    4. Development (How is the development of the paper carried out? Does it start with a broad subject and then move to something more specific?)


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