College writers have many potential opportunities to seek out feedback on their work, at any stage of the writing process. For instance, your college’s Writing Center or Tutoring Center would be happy to work with you on prewriting, early drafts, or nearly finished drafts.
Friends or family members might also be good options for feedback, if you trust that they will be genuine and helpful with their input.
You will likely also have the opportunity to participate in peer review for many courses that require writing assignments.
Instructors teaching a writing-intensive course, or any course that requires students to produce a substantial amount of writing, should consider creating opportunities for students to read and respond to one another’s writing. Such opportunities to engage in “peer review,” when well planned, can help students improve their reading and writing skills and learn how to collaborate effectively.
More specifically, participating in peer review can help students:
- Learn how to read carefully, with attention to the details of a piece of writing (whether their own or another writer’s);
- Learn how to strengthen their writing by taking into account the responses of actual and anticipated readers;
- Make the transition from writing primarily for themselves or for an instructor to writing for a broader audience–a key transition for students as they learn to write university-level papers and as they prepare for post-graduate work;
- Learn how to formulate and communicate constructive feedback on a peer’s work;
- Learn how to gather and respond to feedback on their own work.
Challenges in the Peer Review Process
Many instructors who have incorporated peer review into their courses report less than satisfying results. In fact, it is quite common to find that, when asked to participate in peer review, students rush through the peer-review process and offer their peers only vaguely positive comments, such as “I liked your paper,” or “Good job,” or “Good paper, but a few parts need more work.” Furthermore, many students seem to ignore peer-reviewers’ comments on their writing.
There are several possible reasons behind such responses:
- Many students feel uncomfortable with the task of having to pronounce a judgment on their peers’ writing. This discomfort may be the result of their maturity level, their desire not to hurt a peer’s feelings (perhaps made more acute by the fact that they are anxious about having their peers read and judge their own writing), or simply their inexperience with providing constructive criticism on a peer’s work. A vaguely positive response allows them to avoid a socially uncomfortable situation and to create an environment of mutual support (Nilson 2003).
- If students are not given clear guidance from their instructors, they may not know how to comment on one another’s writing in a specific and constructive way. In addition, it should be noted that students may not understand how to comment on their peers’ writing because over the years they have not received helpful feedback from instructors who have graded their papers. (For suggestions on how to write specific comments that can help students improve their writing, see the handout, “Commenting on Student Writing“).
- Some instructors ask their students to evaluate their peers’ writing using the same criteria the instructor uses when grading papers (e.g., quality of thesis, adequacy of support, coherence, etc.).Undergraduate students often have an inadequate understanding of these criteria, and as a result, they either ignore or inappropriately apply such criteria during peer-review sessions (Nilson 2003).
- Many students do not perceive feedback from peers as relevant to the process of writing a paper for a course. Especially at the beginning of their undergraduate work, students are likely to assume that it is only the instructor’s feedback that “counts.”
- Even when they take seriously feedback provided by their peers, students often do not know how to incorporate that feedback when they revise their papers.