4B. Peer Review: Theory and Practice

What is Peer Review?

Peer review is a technique that involves soliciting feedback from peers about one or more specific aspects of your writing. It allows you to interact with peers about your writing challenges and build on strengths. This technique allows you to receive constructive feedback and advice on areas of your writing. Additionally, peer review allows you to think through your writing and see your work through the eyes of your reader. When applied, the peer review process is a social, productive, and engaging way of participating in a community of practice in your discipline.

While there are several benefits of peer review to the writer, this technique also benefits the peer completing the review, by:

  • being diligent reviewers, we become stronger writers,

  • reading the work of others, we learn productive writing habits, and

  • providing feedback, we have to think through not only the content, but how the writing was constructed, and why we are making specific suggestions.

What is the Scope of Peer Review?

Ultimately, it is up to the peer review pair/group to outline what aspects of the writing will be reviewed every session or series of sessions. A good place to start your peer review process is in the following areas:
  • Content: arguments/claims, logic, evidence, analysis

  • Structure: organization, transitions, connections 

  • Style: tone, word choice, formality

  • Mechanics: grammar, sentence structure, spelling

Illustration of the the suggested areas in which to start your review process. Described in the bulleted list above.
The first three areas (i.e., content, structure, and style) highlight the “global” issues of the writing piece, while the last section [i.e.mechanics] focuses on “local” concerns.

Why Peer Review?


You learn to become a better writer by working hard to become a good peer reviewer. Since writing is a recursive process, peer review allows you to read critically, think deeply, and take the time to make clear connections and suggestions. 

Additionally, there is value in having an outside reader review your work. They provide an opportunity to tell the writer about their experience as a reader. By giving peer feedback, the reader can provide comments and make suggestions for clarity and coherence. Ultimately, peer review allows the writer to acknowledge if they are saying what they think they are saying.

Student at desk with laptop

What are the Steps for Peer Review?


Before you begin, choose someone who:

  • has a different worldview than your own,

  • has demonstrated expertise/skill that you want to learn from, or

  • is at "arm’s length" from you and not your close friend (what happens if you choose a close friend? Can you trust the quality of their feedback?).

In general, choose someone who will give you feedback that will improve your draft; avoid choosing someone who will tell you what you already know.

Help the writer build on their strengths. Read the work at least twice to get a true sense of structure and comprehension.  In your comments, be helpful but honest. Focus on clarity and communication, instead of grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
Two people in discussion.

Ultimately, you want to tell the writer about your experience as a reader. Language you can use to be specific about your experience is as follows:

  • “What I understand you’re saying is ...”
  • “I had a hard time following how you got from this point to this argument …”
  • “I had difficulty understanding what you mean here ...”
  • “This connection is very strong and clear ...”

The general process for the reviewer: Praise → Question → Polish
First, tell the writer about specific strengths in their writing.


What is good about the writing? Why is it good?

Some language structure you can use to express the strengths of the writing:

  • “This example really helped me understand the concept you were trying to describe.”
  • “I really like how you explained that graph. You focused on what was most important.”
  • “You use transitions really well from paragraph to paragraph.”
Then, address what makes you pause and re-evaluate the text.


As a reader, what do you not understand? What would you like clarified?

Some language structure you can use to express the strengths of the writing:

  • “Do you think that there are ways that your readers might disagree with you here?”
  • “Are there others who have made this same argument?”
  • “What exactly does this term mean?”
Finally, offer the writer tangible suggestions for revisions. You want to be able to provide enough suggestions for an action plan.


What specific suggestions for improvement can you make?

Some language structure you can use to express the strengths of the writing:

  • “Can you add one sentence that states your point more simply?”
  • “What if you consider a counter-argument here?”
  • “I think adding some evidence here would really help your argument.”
Here are some examples of concrete versus vague statements.

Since writing is personal, it is important to maintain a level head. Here are some tips to responding to peer review comments:

  • Get mad, and then get over it.

  • Step away from the comments to gather your thoughts.

  • Reread the comments and suggestions and categorize them (global concerns, local concerns, etc.).

  • Even if the reviewer is incorrect, it doesn’t mean you are right; perhaps the reviewer inadvertently identified an area that was not clearly understood.

  • Be grateful for the reviewer's time.

Illustration of some tips to responding to peer reviews. Description above.
The general process of receiver is Clarify → Direct → Thank
Illustration of the general process for the receiver as described above


Ask follow-up questions to better understand your reviewer’s comments.

Some language structure you can use to express the strengths of the writing:

  • “You mentioned that my sentences are too long. Could you point out a couple places where you saw this?”
  • “You said I needed more evidence in my second paragraph. What, as the reader, do you feel you needed? What questions did you still have?”
  • “You said the organization was not helpful. Can you tell me what was problematic for you? Were my arguments in an order that was not logical? Did the sentences in my paragraph not flow well together?”


Tell the reader what you think needs to be looked at.

Some language structure you can use to express the strengths of the writing:

  • “I had trouble connecting the evidence to my topic sentence here. Is it working?”
  • “I’m not sure about the organization of this paragraph. Does it sound logical to you?”
  • “I’m really having trouble with my introduction. It’s too long. Would some of this information be better placed somewhere else? Is any of it unnecessary?”


Even if the comments make you uncomfortable, thank the reviewer for their feedback.  You are more likely to get stronger feedback when you acknowledge the other person’s effort and time.

Additional Resources

  • Morely, John. "Academic Phrasebank." Online at Manchester 1824, The University of Manchester. [supports the drafting and revising process]
  • Corpus of Contemporary American English [written context-sensitive support; supports ELL]
  • Khoo, E. (2005). Verbs in Academic Writing. Online at The Writing Centre, University of Toronto at Scarborough. (PDF) [verbs in academic writing]
  • Purdue Online Writing Lab. The Writing Process. Online at Purdue University. [resource to support student learning; user friendly "how to" guide on the writing process]