“There are two kinds of editors, those who correct your copy and those who say it’s wonderful.” —Theodore H. White
In the scenario above, you were not able to gain any insights or knowledge from your roommate letting you know that your paper “sucks.” What you wanted was some kind of feedback that would help you improve your paper, so you could get a good grade. You don’t know if your paper sucks because it lacked a strong thesis, if it sucks because your writing strayed from the assignment, or if it sucks because of grammatical errors. You can be a better self- and peer-reviewer than your roommate was. Given the previous example, how hard can it be? When you’re reviewing your own paper or the paper of a friend or classmate, ask yourself a few questions:
- What are your initial thoughts? What strengths and weaknesses does the paper have? What parts confused you, or might be confusing to other readers? What’s the most important thing that the writer is trying to say?
- How is the paper you’re reviewing organized? Again, does it start with the broad and move to specifics? Do all sentences support the paragraph’s topic sentence, and do all paragraphs support the thesis? Is there an Introduction that draws in the reader, or does it restate the assignment and become redundant? Is the paper organized in a way that will make sense to readers? Does the writer employ transitions effectively? Does the paper flow from beginning to end?
- Is the paper focused on the assignment? Does it follow the same thought throughout the paper, or does it jump from subject to subject? Do I feel like I’m still learning about/thinking about the same subject at the end of the paper that I was at the beginning of the paper?
- Try to paraphrase the thesis of the paper as a promise: The writer will... Does the writer fulfill his/her obligation stated in the thesis?
- What’s the writer’s position on the issue? What words does the writer use to indicate his/her position?
- In what style is the paper written? Does it work for the subject matter and assignment? Will the paper appeal to its intended audience? Is the writing at an appropriate level for the target audience?
- Does the title indicate what the paper is about? Does it catch your interest? Does the opening paragraph draw you in? If not, can you suggest a different approach to catch the readers’ attention?
- How is the development of the paper carried out? Does it start with a broad subject and then move to something more specific?
- Does the concluding sentence draw the argument of the paper to a close by bringing together the main points provided in the paper, or does it just end? Does the writer conclude in a memorable way, or does he/she simply trail off? If the ending is too abrupt or too vague, can you suggest some other way to conclude the paper? Does the ending introduce any new topics?
- Are common or appropriate writing conventions followed? Are grammar, spelling, punctuation and other mechanics observed?
While reviewing the paper, make notes in the margins of any problems you find. If you believe that developing a paragraph a little bit more would be helpful to the argument, write “more.” If you are unclear of something, write “? not sure.” If you notice a missing comma, insert it in the correct spot, but be sure to set it off somehow so that you or your friend will notice the correction. If another word might work better, write “WC” to indicate inappropriate word choice. If you’re critiquing an essay and you are uncertain of the appropriate advise to give, simply write “awkward.”
Please note: It is important not to overwhelm your writer with comments. As much as possible, try to avoid repeating similar comments (e.g. don't correct every single comma error you find). Also, although it can be tempting to make some of the changes you suggest yourself, you never want to rewrite the work you are reviewing.