Writing Center

Reviewer vs. Writer: A Peer-Editing Prepper

by Zenab Saeed, Writing Tutor


For many students, peer-editing day in an English class is met with polarized responses: some love it, whereas others hate it. Peer-editing, however, is an integral aspect of the writing process, without which one is unable to catch things-whether errors in comma usage or confusing sentences- they have not caught in their own writing. It can be intimidating to peer review someone else's writing, especially when you do not know the writer very well. You might not want to come off as too critical or be perceived as mean, and then compensate by offering minimal feedback, which is not helpful to the writer. So, peer-editing day in class can go one of two ways: you can either leave with lots of help and ideas on how to improve your writing or you can leave feeling like the exercise was a waste of time. Since peer-editing can be challenging, here are some strategies that I have used both when peer-editing and when receiving feedback to make sure that I get the most out of the experience:


As the reviewer...

  1. Take your task seriously.and#8203; Every time I review or edit someone else's writing, I make sure that I am devoting all of my attention to helping the writer. This means that that there are a few things to do before reading the essay right away. It is important to read the prompt the writer is trying to answer so that you can provide feedback about whether or not the writing accomplished what it was supposed to. This also means understanding the intended audience of the writing. For example, if the audience for the paper is the professor, you want to examine it through that lens. When you do start to read, it is important to pay attention so that you can understand the writing better.

  2. Be honest, specific, and constructive with feedback.and#8203; This part of peer-editing can be difficult, because you do not want your peer to think that you are attacking their writing. Yet, it is also important to understand that your job as a reviewer is to provide the writer with useful feedback. Offer feedback as suggestions rather than criticism. Rather than saying "The structure of the paper is illogical," you could say, "The structure of the paper made your argument more difficult to understand, so reorganizing it could improve clarity." This way, you can be sure to say what you mean and think about the writing without coming off as critical. Offering suggestions is also important, because they can offer some guidance for writers to make changes. For example, the writer might not know how to fix the problem of an illogically structured paper, but offering the advice to reorganize some paragraphs can provide them with a starting point.

  3. Pay attention to more than just comma errors.and#8203; The role of a peer editor is not to make the paper perfect but rather offer helpful feedback for a writer to use in the writing process. Often times, it is easy to focus on lower-order concerns, like spelling errors or grammar mistakes. Though these are important, they can be secondary in priority if the paper has problems with clarity, organization, or focus. For this reason, it is important to focus on the bigger picture, too, which means providing feedback on style, structure, content, and clarity. If you notice that the writing has a repeated grammar problem, it can be helpful to point it out as a general rule to the writer. For example, if the writing has many comma splices, you can explain this problem instead of simply telling the writer that their comma placement is wrong without explaining the reason.


As the writer...

  1. Give your reviewer everything they need.and#8203; It is important to come prepared with your prompt and your writing so that your reviewer knows what to look for and so that you can get the most out of the experience. This can also mean telling your reviewer what your main concerns are so that they can focus on thinking about specific suggestions.

  2. Be open to feedback.and#8203; Sometimes, getting a paper back with lots of writing and markings on it can be a bit dejecting. Yet, it is important to understand that your reviewer is there to help you and make sure that you get the most out of the experience in terms of feedback about your writing. This is something I especially keep in mind during peer review, because it helps to make sure that I do not take the comments or suggestions personally as attacks on my writing ability but rather as ways to make my writing even better.

  3. Make it a conversation.and#8203; If you get confused about a comment, feel free to ask your reviewer what they meant. This also means understanding that comments are suggestions rather than mandates: if you do not agree with a specific suggestion or find it helpful, remember it is up to you to figure out how to address the identified writing mistake.


Even though the peer-editing process can be a bit overwhelming, you can make sure that you get the most out of the experience (on both sides) by staying open and honest. It is always helpful to have another set of eyes look at your writing, because it helps you understand it from a different perspective.

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