Chapter 7: Revising Your Work

7.2 Peer Review

The easiest way for others to read and review your work, as well as for you to do so yourself, is in print form. When revising, print the draft as you will the final version: single-sided and double-spaced, with regular size margins. This allows your reader, whether a classmate or your instructor, plenty of room to mark areas that might require revision. If you yourself would like to make marks as your reviewer speaks, provide yourself with a second printout identical to the first. You will get more and clearer feedback, however, if you simply write your reviewer’s comments on lined notebook paper.

Take down all of your reviewer’s comments. Stifle the almost universal urge to explain or justify your work: “Oh, no, that’s not right. See, what I meant by that was …” You will not be able to accompany your final draft to your instructor’s office and comment while she reads it.

Remember, your writing needs to speak for itself.

It is more valuable for you to learn from your reviewer what sentences or ideas caused confusion (so that you can fix them) than it is for him to understand what you actually meant. This is because, since you have read much more on the topic than you wrote, your brain naturally “fills in the blanks” where you left out vital information. You have no way of knowing where you need to add details, reword your work, or otherwise revise by reading over your work yourself. Your peer reviewer, however, probably hasn’t researched the subject. He is a blank slate and thus the perfect person to point out any gaps in your writing.

If your reviewer makes a judgment without evidence (“It seems like this is really unclear”), wait until the end, when your instructor may give you a chance to respond to comments. Then ask him for the evidence that led to his judgment (“What parts of it seem unclear to you? How come?”). You need specifics to revise accurately.

Now it’s your turn to read your peer’s work. Read it over slowly, pausing at the end of each sentence, if not before. Offer a comment based on your experience as a reader. If you see no issues with the sentence, say so, and perhaps offer a summary (this lets him know he is on the right track). “‘The Kamchatka Peninsula was closed to visitors until 1990.’ Okay, well, I guess you’re writing about how people from outside couldn’t see this place for a long time. I’m curious why.” Give your peer time to jot down your comments, then move on to the next sentence.

Remember, your job is not to edit or judge your peer’s work.

He’s the writer, so he gets to decide what to do with your feedback. There are often multiple ways to solve any writing problem. Pointing out that your classmate has split an infinitive only helps if he doesn’t end up changing the sentence or taking it out altogether. Plus, he may not have the grammatical background to understand what you’ve said. “‘The people of Kamchatka have worked to tirelessly safeguard their heritage.’ Hm. The word ‘tirelessly’ seems like it could come before ‘to’” is a helpful comment anyone could understand.

Take as much time as you can to review your peer’s work. It should take you at least twenty minutes to get through a double-spaced page of printed text.

Once you have your reader’s comments, it’s time for you to edit your work. Take the feedback home and refer to it as you revise your work. You don’t need to address every comment, but be clear on the ones you ignore (“He said he didn’t get this sentence, but I actually think, because I revised the previous one to add more information, it should probably be clear now”). Your instructor may ask you to report on your editing decisions or hand in your notes, so it’s best to have an idea of why you made the editing choices you did.

Review Questions

  1. Exchange copies of each other’s conclusions from Chapter 5.3 The Conclusion. Take turns being the reader and the writer. When you are the reader, read each sentence of the conclusion out loud, pausing at the end of the sentence to give your writer a comment. When you are the writer, simply write down everything your reader says without saying a word.
  2. Use your reviewer’s comments to revise your conclusion. When you have finished writing, add a short report (two-thirds of a page) explaining what comments you did and didn’t address and why.


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Building Blocks of Academic Writing by Carellin Brooks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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