How to Peer Review an Essay By Blake Lienhart

Getting another person to read through and edit your essay is a great way to catch any mistakes that you may have missed, yourself. More and more teachers these days are encouraging their students to seek out these other opinions on their papers before the final due date. Many of these teachers are even setting aside time in class to allow students to trade and edit one another's essays. The problem with this is that very many students do not know how to properly edit their peers' papers. While there is no absolutely perfect and ideal way to review a peer's paper, there are some things that should always be remembered and some very common mistakes that students commit.

In this tutorial, I will be identifying those mistakes and laying out a helpful method that will let you edit your peers' paper as best as you can. It is important to remember that, as an editor, you may not always have a lot of time to edit a paper. Because of this, it is essential that you focus on the most important things first. Below is a graphic organizer I created displaying the order in which you should look for things while peer editing with the least important ranked later in case of lack of time.

Step one: Find out the topic of the paper and any specific questions the author may have

Before even beginning to read another student's paper, it is absolutely essential that you know what the paper is about. You can't identify if the paper is responding to the prompt if you do not even know what the prompt is. In this stage, before starting to read, it is also very important to ask if the author has any specific questions for you, the editor, about their essay. These could range from "do you think this part makes sense?" all the way to "do you think this point supports my thesis?". As the reviewer, it is your main goal to help out the author as much as you can. Because of this, any specific questions should definitely be answered to the best of your abilities after initially reading the paper.

StartupStockPhotos. Office Startup Business. 2014. Pixabay.com. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Step two: read through the paper

In your first reading of the paper, do not focus on searching for errors. Instead, just read through it. Depending on time restraints, you will read through it another time and look for mistakes. This first reading should be entirely focused on just seeing what the author is trying to say in the paper. You will mainly focus on the answer to the most important question in this process

Step Three: Does the paper respond to the prompt?

In this initial reading of the paper, only think about one thing: does this paper respond to the prompt or answer the question posed? During this stage, do not make any marks on the paper not relating to this. Focus entirely on reading and taking in everything on the page. This is the most important part of the peer editing process. If the paper does, in fact, respond to the prompt, you can move on and help the author to improve the paper in different ways. If it does not, return the essay to the author and let them know this. There is no point in searching for minuscule errors such as spelling mistakes when the entire paper is essentially incorrect already. You could write the most beautiful paper ever in a history class, but since it doesn't respond to a prompt in an English class, there would be no purpose in submitting it to that English professor, regardless of how well-written it is. In a paper asking to discuss symbolism in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it is better to turn in something like this

than something like this

The first paper may be a terribly written piece of garbage, but at least it actually responds to the prompt. This is definitely an extreme example, as no intelligent person would ever turn in the second paper in response to that prompt, but it is easy to lose track of your writing while working. Going off on too much of a tangent or misreading the prompt can easily lead to a paper not answer the questions that it should, regardless of how well crafted it is.

Step four: Reread the introduction

Now that you have confirmed that the paper does in fact respond to the prompt, it is time to begin the bulk of the actual editing. It's easiest to split the paper into three separate sections: the intro paragraph, the body paragraphs, and the conclusion. During this step of the peer editing process, reread the intro paragraph. While reading it, begin to think about answering any specific questions the author had if any of them involve the introductory paragraph. The most important part of this paragraph is the thesis. Ask yourself, "where is the thesis?". Once you find it, it is important to check if the thesis describes the topic of the paper. This is something that you have already slightly began to do while checking if the paper responds to the prompt, but the thesis sentence is the most important sentence in the paper, so it is important to double check. Another important aspect of the intro paragraph that should be evaluated here is whether or not the first sentences grab the reader's attention. If it does not, it is important to note this. If it does, it can be helpful to the author to know this so let them know that they have a strong opening sentence. Keep in mind that due to any possible time restraints, you may not have time to get to less important details such as misspellings at this stage, so simply ignore them for now and focus on reviewing the more important parts of the paragraph.

Step 5: reread the body paragraphs

Now that you have looked over the intro paragraph, it is time to move on to the second and biggest section of the paper: the body paragraphs. This is where most people begin when peer editing incorrectly. Instead of reading the whole paper and thinking about it before editing it, they instead just dive right into it without much thought. This step is similar to the last one as you will mainly just be reading through these paragraphs and checking to make sure that the arguments presented agree with the thesis. This is where most marking on the paper will be done, as well, due to most of the information of the paper being located in this section. The main purpose of the body paragraphs is to present evidence that supports the thesis. Because of this, it is essential to evaluate each and every single piece of evidence the author presents and judge how much it supports the thesis. The most important thing to remember when peer editing is that you are helping another student out. If they have any specific questions, it is vital that you answer them. It is also important to remember that the only thing your peer wants from you is help improving their essay. It is nice to leave comments praising things that they have done well, but they would much rather you leave comments suggesting alternatives to things they have said or correcting their mistakes. After judging if the body paragraphs support the thesis and answering any potential questions, read over the transitions from paragraph to paragraph and make sure that they flow well, noting as many constructive and polite criticisms as possible. Do not make rude comments about mistakes, but instead helpful suggestions on how to improve something. Your peer will get a lot more out of polite comments with ideas to fix mistakes like this

than comments merely pointing out a mistake like this.

STEP six: ReRead the Conclusion

Step six is very similar to steps four and five. You have read the concluding paragraph once before but now you will begin making marks and suggesting ways to fix any mistakes you notice. As always, focus on the most important aspects of peer editing first due to any possible time restrictions as you reach the end of the process. The main purpose of the conclusion paragraph is to wrap up the paper. Make sure to check that the thesis is restated and that this paragraph ends leaving you feeling satisfied and believing the thesis or claim of the paper. A very common mistake that many writers make and many peer editors do not identify is using the concluding paragraph to simply restate everything discussed in the paper so far. This should be one of the first things you look for when peer reviewing this section of the paper. A good conclusion should do three things: restate the thesis in a fresh sounding way, not introduce any new information or summarize the paper, and leave the reader with some sort of lasting impression. After confirming that each of these is true, you can begin looking at things like the flow of the paragraph and the transition from the last body paragraph to the concluding one.

Step seven: Explain your thoughts to the writer

Now that you have carefully read through the paper twice and made suggestions on how to potentially improve it, it is time to meet back up with your peer whose paper you have been reviewing. Begin this by simply walking him or her through their paper and pointing out each of your comments and criticisms then explaining how they might change it to better fit in the paper. It is very important to remember during this discussion that you are peers. Neither one of you is above the other in anyway so be sure to explain your suggestions in a polite way without putting them down. If they say something in their paper that is objectively untrue or simply does not fit in, be sure to tell them in a kind way while still stressing how you feel about your suggestions. If they did something extremely well, let them know, just be sure to limit your compliments to a reasonable amount and instead focus on how they can improve their essay. After walking them through their whole paper and explaining each of your suggestions and constructive criticisms, be sure to answer to the best of your abilities any questions that they asked before you began. For example, if they specifically asked you, "do you think that this quote supports my claim?" now is the time to let them know.

Kenski, Valery. Conversation. Digital image. Flickr. Flickr, 22 Nov. 2013. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Step Eight: discuss your suggestions with the author

After walking the author through your suggestions, it is now time to listen. Now is the time to ask the writer any questions you had about their essay. This will ultimately lead to a discussion about the paper where you can both work together to make changes to the paper for the better. One thing that the editor must remember, however, is that they are not the author of this paper. If you make a suggestion and the author tells you that they like it how it is then simply move on to the next one. A peer editor aims to help improve a paper, not to rewrite it as their own. Do not be offended if the writer disregards your suggestions and sticks with what they wrote originally. This step is where the editor and author are able to fully discuss the paper and ask each other questions about suggestions and the paper, itself. This step could last only a few seconds or a much longer time. It all depends on the quality and amount of suggestions, the author's drive to improve the paper, and a time limit enforced by a teacher if the peer review process is carried out in class. Ultimately, this is the most important part of the process because both parties are able to go back and forth in order to find the perfect fix to any mistake or misunderstanding.

Step Nine: reread and check for mechanics and grammar mistakes

If you, as the editor, still have a bit of time after discussing the paper with the writer, go back and reread the paper one last time, this time only focusing on finding and correcting grammatical and mechanical mistakes such as spelling errors, misplaced commas, and capitalization issues. These are very minor things to correct compared to many of the other essential steps in peer reviewing, but they can still add up and affect an essay's final grade. As a writer, it is easy to make simple spelling errors or repeat a word and not even notice it. These are mistakes that are much easier for someone who did not write the paper to catch. Peer reviewing is a very difficult task with a lot to focus on. Because of all of the other absolutely vital goals of a peer editor, this step should always be completed last if there is time.

Karakash, Anne. Mistakes Editing School. 2016. Pixabay.com. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Credits:

Created with images by StartupStockPhotos - "office startup business" • raiznext - "Conversation" • annekarakash - "mistakes editing school"

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