10 – Revising and Editing

Peer Review

David McMurrey; Claire Carly-Miles; Kalani Pattison; and Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt

(also called peer editing) refers to people of equal (or near-equal) status and ability reading, commenting on, and recommending improvements to each other’s work. Peer reviewing another’s work provides experience in looking critically at writing and potentially offers suggestions for things you may try (or avoid) in your own writing.

When you peer-review another writer’s work, you evaluate it, criticize it, suggest improvements, and then communicate all of that to the writer. As a first-time peer reviewer, you might be uneasy about criticizing someone else’s work. For example, how do you tell somebody that the document is boring? This chapter offers advice and guidance for doing peer reviews and communicating peer feedback.

Peer Review: The Writer’s Responsibilities

At the beginning of a peer review, the writer should provide reviewers with notes on the writing assignment and on goals and concerns about the writing project (topic, audience, purpose, situation, genre), and alert them to any problems or concerns. As the writer, you want to let your reviewers know what you’d like help with and what kinds of things you were trying to do. The questions to be answered in peer review should be specific. For example, consider the following questions asked by the writer of a set of technical instructions:

  • Does my explanation of virtual machine X make sense to you? Would it make sense to our least technical customers?
  • In general, is my writing style too technical? (I may have mimicked too much of the engineers’ specifications.)
  • Are the chapter titles and headings in this instruction manual clearly relative to the content that follows each? (I had trouble phrasing some of the titles and headings.)
  • Are the screenshots clear enough? (I may have been trying to get too much detail in some of them.)
  • Do I introduce the graphics clearly or do they just seem stuck into the section?

Peer Review: The Reviewer’s Responsibilities

When you peer-review other people’s writing, remember that you should consider all aspects of that writing, not just—in fact, least of all—the grammar, spelling, and punctuation. If you are new to peer reviewing, be sure to examine the draft for the following:

Rhetorical effectiveness. How well does the document address the needs and interests of its audience? How persuasive is the document for its audience?

Clarity of purpose. What is the purpose of the document? Does the writer succeed in fulfilling that purpose?

Content. Is the content of each major section appropriate? Are sufficient details and development provided? Is there any place where the author could add or remove content?

Organization and coherence. Does the document follow a logical organizational framework? Are genre conventions followed for headings and subheadings? Do all paragraphs in a section logically progress from or relate to each other? Does the writer use clear transitional words and phrases to signal how ideas/paragraphs/sentences/examples relate to each other? Do paragraphs contain clear topic sentences and remain focused throughout?

Sentence style and clarity. Are individual sentences clear? Does the writer use a variety of sentence styles? Does the writer avoid passive voice unless necessary?

Graphics. If graphics are used, are they used effectively? Are the graphics introduced in the text of the document prior to appearing? Are graphics appropriately labeled and titled? Are captions provided, as necessary? Is the meaning of the graphic immediately clear? Does the graphic have a specific and necessary purpose for appearing in the document?

After reviewing the document, you will then need to inform your peer of your evaluation, either in person or in writing. Receiving feedback can be stressful, so frame your comments constructively and conscientiously. Below are some specific guidelines you can use to help ensure that your critique is fair and helpful:

Use standard conventions. Be careful about making comments or criticisms that are based on your own personal style. Base your criticisms and suggestions for improvements on generally accepted guidelines, concepts, and rules. Explain the reasons why the change will better fit expectations and conventions. If you do make a comment that is your own preference, explain your reasoning.

Explain. Explain fully the problems you find. Don’t just say a document “seems disorganized.” Explain what is disorganized about it. Use specific details from the draft to demonstrate your case.

Provide Solutions. Whenever you criticize something in the writer’s draft, suggest a way to correct the problem. For example, if the writer’s paper seems disorganized, explain how that problem might be solved.

Be Moderate. Avoid rewriting the draft that you are reviewing. In your efforts to suggest improvements and corrections, don’t go overboard and rewrite the draft yourself. Doing so steals from the original writer the opportunity to learn and improve. It can also be considered plagiarism, since you will not be listed as an author on the final draft.

Be Positive. Find positive, encouraging things to say about the draft you’re reviewing. Compliments, even small ones, are usually much appreciated. Read through the draft at least once, looking for things that were done well, and let the writer know about them.

Be Honest. Although you should convey encouraging and positive things wherever appropriate, do not just be “nice.” Be honest but tactful. A review full of compliments that ignores legitimate problems with a document is not helpful and doesn’t actually demonstrate care towards your peer.

Peer Review Summary

Once you’ve finished a peer review, it’s a good idea to write a summary of your thoughts, observations, impressions, criticisms, or feelings about the rough draft. Your summary should attempt to

Categorize your comments according to the type of problem or error. Place higher-level comments on such things as content, organization, and interest-level in one group, and lower-order concerns such as grammar and usage comments in another group.

Indicate the relative importance of each category of comments. Note which suggestions are critical to meeting assignment guidelines and which would be nice (but not necessarily crucial) to incorporate.

Explain your comments. Include references to guidelines, rules, examples, or common sense. Don’t simply say, “This is wrong; fix it.”

Address questions to the writer. Double check to see if the writer really meant to state or imply certain things.

Praise what works. Include positive comments about the rough draft and find nonantagonistic, sympathetic ways to state criticisms.

Peer Review vs. Team Writing

As you can see above, peer reviewing is about people reading and commenting on the work of other people.  While this involves working together, the writer’s use of comments made by their peer reviewer still requires that the writer is responsible for the text that they’ve written and that their work does not incorporate the words of anyone else without proper citation. On the other hand, we have (also called collaborative writing), which  refers to a group of people getting together to plan, write, and revise writing projects as a team. In team writing, all members of the team openly state that they are working as a team and thus receive combined credit for composing a document. However, unattributed team writing (such as you and a friend co-writing a paper that just your friend submits and claims sole credit for) is considered plagiarism.

This text was derived from

McMurrey, David, “Strategies for Peer Reviewing and Team Writing,” in Reardon, Tiffani, Tamara Powell, Jonathan Arnett, Monique Logan, and Cassandra Race, with contributors David McMurrey, Steve Miller, Cherie Miller, Megan Gibbs, Jennifer Nguyen, James Monroe, and Lance Linimon. Open Technical Communication. 4th Edition. Athens, GA: Affordable Learning Georgia, n.d. https://alg.manifoldapp.org/projects/open-tc. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

McMurrey, David. Online Technical Writing. n.d. https://www.prismnet.com/~hcexres/textbook/. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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Howdy or Hello? Technical and Professional Communication by David McMurrey; Claire Carly-Miles; Kalani Pattison; and Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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