University Writing Center Blog

Posted on October 31st, 2019 in Tutoring, Writing Center Work, Writing Strategies by University Writing Center

Written by: Anna K.

In life, and especially in college, the chances that you will be asked to read and provide feedback on a paper are high. It can be uncomfortable to provide critique for a peer’s work, but, like we at the writing center like to say, “writers need readers.” Peer review is an important part of the writing process, so consider this a non-exhaustive guide to providing feedback on peers’ papers.

Before Reading:
First, consider what the writer wants–

Your task is to assist the writer in achieving the goal that they want to reach, not to make the paper the way you think it should be.  This is true whether you are required in class to review someone’s paper or if you are sent a paper by your friend. Before anything else, spend a few minutes asking the writer what they are concerned about and what would be most helpful for you to focus your attention on. This is the most important step. Without it, you will only create frustration.

Ask Yourself:

  • Why is someone having me read this paper?
  • What do they like about their paper, what do they not like?
  • Do they want to talk and ask specific questions? Do they want you to read the entire paper?
  • What would be most helpful to this person in this moment: encouraging nods and smiles, or critical thinking and suggestions?

Second, consider the requirements for the assignment–

If your peer is writing this as part of an assignment, find out what the requirements are. Along with knowing what the writer wants, this will help frame what you think about as you read the paper.

Ask yourself:

  • What is the genre of the paper?
  • Are there specific things that need to be included in the paper?
  • What is the length requirement?
  • When is it due?
    • Knowing when something is due will specifically help you know what types of things to focus on. Does the person have time to conduct more research, rewrite paragraphs, or change sentences?

While Reading:

As you read the paper, focus your attention on the big picture before you look at the smaller parts. This is when you collect the data to then formulate your advice. Consider taking notes as you read through of things that strike you, where you get confused, or any other thoughts you have.

First, look at thesis and audience–

Ask yourself:

  • Does the writer accomplish their goal? Why/why not?
  • Does the paper properly consider its audience? Is the audience’s knowledge level taken into consideration? Is the audience’s onions on the topic taken into consideration? Why/why not?
  • Does the writer reach each of the paper’s requirements? Why/Why not?

Second, turn your focus to things like organization and development–

Ask Yourself:

  • Does the paper flow in a way that makes sense? Where is it confusing and why?
    • Does any section seem overdeveloped or under developed? Where, what is it that you want more of, or less? Why do you think that?
  • What did you like? What was strong about the paper?

Third, turn your focus to more of the details–

Depending on the stage of the writing someone is in, these may or may not apply.  If the writer is going to change entire paragraphs, the topic, and the structure, then their sentences, word choice, and commas will change. For writers who are still revising, the previous sections will focus on this less than with writers who are farther along.

Ask Yourself:

  • Do you see any patterns in these concerns?
  • Rather than pointing out every single place a comma is or isn’t, perhaps think about overall patterns that the writer employs and address those patterns; give the writer the tools they need to succeed rather than just doing it for them!
  • Are their certain words that have connotations different from what the writer may have intended?  
  • Were there any sentences that you didn’t understand or were difficult to read? Why?
  • Were there any sentences that you really liked or worked really well?

Giving Advice:

  • Talk about what you liked and what you didn’t.
    • Don’t just say those things that the writer might need to fix, but also tell them what works really well in their paper.
  • Explain what you say.
    • Instead of just telling someone “this paragraph is confusing,” explain to them specifically what confused you and how it relates to the paper around it.
  • Ask the writer what they think, and make sure you answer the questions and concerns they asked you to watch out for!
  • Be encouraging!
    • Papers are stressful! Tell them this challenge is surmountable! Tell them they are amazing! Tell them you love their topic! Tell them you love them!

When you read through someone’s paper, know that every time will be different. It depends on the person, the topic, and the assignment, so be willing to be flexible and be willing to listen. Are you excited to put this guide into practice but don’t have access to papers to read? Come work at the writing center! We have lots of papers!