Peer critiques during the draft stage of an essay are of great help to college students. The following guidelines will help students perform a thoughtful critique of their classmates writing.
Students should have the opportunity to take home a copy of the essay in question and should return with a typewritten memo addressing some general points in the essay. You may also mark directly on the essay in order to provide more specific feedback. Students should phrase criticism in a manner that will enable their peers to use this feedback to improve the essay. The following peer critique guidelines can be provided to students in order to help them give a successful peer critique:
Start by reading the whole draft without commenting or questioning. Read as generously as you can—try to understand the complete essay. In one paragraph, try to give a holistic assessment of the draft. Share with the writer what you admire about the draft and point out what the most interesting points of the paper were and why you felt they were interesting. Summarize what you believe to be the main point of the essay.
Read a second time, more analytically. This is the time to make marginal notes on the draft itself, and to ask questions as you read. Since the draft is likely to change drastically between now and its final version, don’t get hung up correcting specific grammar, spelling and punctuation problems (if you see a clear, recurring problem of this nature however, feel free to address it in general). Instead, comment on the content and organization of the draft as specifically as possible.
Below are some questions that are to serve as guidelines only. Do not simply go through and answer yes/no to these questions or give a one-sentence response. If the question doesn’t apply, don’t tackle it at all, and expand specifically on the points that do apply. Don’t feel that you are restricted to these questions alone. Your critique should be organized somewhat like a letter to the writer—in paragraph form—and be about 2 typewritten, double-spaced pages. Remember to be constructive and respectful.
1)If you were reading this paper for the first time, would you grasp its purpose? Is its main idea clear? Do the points support it? Are the tone and style appropriate for the audience (college students and their professor)? Is the language appropriate?
2)What thesis directs the whole essay? If you can’t find one, can you suggest one? If the thesis isn’t strong, suggest a way to strengthen it.
3)Is the introduction interesting, clear, and easy to follow? What is the best feature of the introduction? How could the introduction be stronger?
4)Is the topic sufficiently narrow for a paper of this length?
5)Does the support for the thesis follow in a logical manner? How so? Does the writer follow through with examples to support his/her thesis? Can you suggest ways to further support the thesis?
6)Are the writer’s primary and secondary sources appropriately integrated into his/her paper? How could they provide better or more convincing support?
7)What more would you like the writer to tell you about the details of the significant incident or issue?
8)Are the paragraphs themselves (internally) organized? Are some too short/long for their subject? Which is the best paragraph and why? Which paragraph needs the most work and why? Mark those paragraphs you think need significant revision and explain why.
9)Where does the writer make generalizations? Does he/she support them with specific details/facts? How so? Are there any places where s/he could use more details or support?
10)Is the conclusion a good ending for the essay? What is particularly good about the conclusion? How could the conclusion be stronger?
11)What seem to you the essay’s major strengths? What major weaknesses stand out?
12)Comment on the style in this essay. It is simplistic? Sophisticated? Explain. Is there a variety in sentence structure? Do the sentences flow? Are there any that can be made stronger or clearer? Suggest ways to improve them.
13) Are there any parts of this essay that confused you, leading you to think the writer needs to explain a bit further?
14)Give one argument or example that the author has overlooked that could strengthen the essay. Give one argument or example that could best contradict the author’s thesis.
15)Does the essay meet the requirements of the assignment and prove the thesis the author proposed? If not, suggest what you would do if you were going to re-write the essay so that it would meet the author’s objective and the requirements of the essay.
Now close your memo and sign it. Make two copies so that you can return one to your peer and one to your instructor.
These guidelines should assist your students in making graceful and competent critiques of each other's formal essays.