Because writing is a social process, it is impossible to compose without getting feedback on your work in progress. The comments and questions you receive from your readers in the process of writing a paper will help you revise and improve your writing. They will also help you to fine tune your writing to your readers’ needs and expectations. This is why writers must to actively seek others’ feedback on their writing and to use that feedback critically in their revisions.
Basic Principles of Peer Response
A large part of a successful peer response process is the mindset of the participants. Your goal as a writer seeking feedback should be to engage others, your readers, in a conversation about your ideas and your text. Tell your readers about the kinds of problems you are experiencing with the writing and about the questions you have.
As a reader of the writing by others, your goal should be not to criticize, dismantle, and destroy their draft. Your goal is not to fix their grammar mistakes or proofread their paper for them. Instead, your strategic goal as a reader and responder is to help them to take their texts where they, not you, want it to go by giving constructive, thoughtful, and detailed feedback. One of the most accessible guides to peer response for writers has been written by Richard Straub in the essay “Responding--Really Responding—to Other Students’ Writing.” Straub states:
First, don’t set out to seek and destroy all errors and problems in the writing. You are not an editor. You are not a teacher. You are not a cruise missile. And don’t rewrite any parts of the paper. You are not the writer; you are a reader. One of many. The paper is not yours; it’s the writer’s (137).
He recommends the following principles of peer response:
- Play back what you read in the paper to the writer. Ask the writer if the meaning you are getting is the meaning he or she intended.
- Do not take on too much. Select one or two global (or content) problems in the piece and work in them.
- Do not worry about grammar and spelling unless it is an editing workshop.
- Comment in writing. Take notes on the margins and write summative notes at the end of the paper.
- Be polite, but not too polite. If you see a problem in the writing, let the writer know.
- Balance praise and criticism.
Good peer responding strategies and techniques are learned through practice. Neither your teacher nor I will expect you to become an excellent and experienced responder to writing over night. Use the principles above to begin your learning.
Editing and Proofreading
Any written text can be changed and improved almost indefinitely. However, there comes a time in every writing project when the writer has to polish up the final product by editing and proof-reading it. What editing strategies you will choose to employ will depend on the kind of style you want your writing to have. If you want terse and compact language, you will edit for conciseness. If you want an elaborate style, you will want to make sure that every sentence and every phrase is clear and says what you want it to say. In either case, editing is a rhetorical task, and the choice of writing style depends on your rhetorical purpose, the audience for which you are writing, and the context in which you are writing. Becoming a good editor of your own and others’ texts takes a lot of practice.
Reading the paper backwards
Start reading the paper from the last sentence on the last page. Doing this forces you to pay attention to the mechanics of every sentence and word. By the time when you proofread your paper, you have probably finished revising it, and your main concern now is to make it as error-free as possible.
Reading to the wall
Sit or stand facing a wall in the classroom or at home. Shut out the outside world. Now, read the paper out loud to yourself, slowly and deliberately. Pay attention to separate words, phrases, and sentences.