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Peer Editing

Peer editing is a way for students to help each other with writing. Each time you’ve asked a friend to look over your paper, and vice-versa, you’ve participated in peer editing. Here are some questions to ask when looking at a thesis-driven essay, the most common type of college writing assignment.

Does the paper fit the assignment?

No matter how good the paper is, your peer won’t get a good grade if it’s not the one assigned. Find out what the instructor expects from it. Ask for clarification of any points you may not understand.

Does the paper have a clear, arguable thesis? The thesis should go well beyond the obvious. It should make an argument that can be contested. It should also be located in the introductory paragraph.

  • Not a thesis: Shakespeare uses images of death in Macbeth. Yes, but so what?
  • Thesis: Through Macbeth’s selfish grab for might, which sacrifices numerous innocent lives in the process, Shakespeare warns theatergoers of the dangers of individualism.

How well is the paper organized? Does it stay on track throughout or meander from thought to thought?

A paper that contains too many ideas unrelated to the thesis lacks focus. Each paragraph in a paper should be built around one main idea and should support the thesis. The writer does not need to explain everything there is to know about the subject.

Do the introduction and conclusion pack a punch?

The introduction’s job is to tell the reader what to expect out of the paper. If you don’t know what to expect after reading the introduction, it’s not serving its purpose. Watch out for broad generalizations and dictionary definitions; both are overused in introductions. A good conclusion should tie the paper together without rehashing the main points or restating the introduction.

Does the writer over use passive voice?

Passive voice allows a writer to create a sentence with a verb and an object but no subject. It can be confusing for the reader. Active voice is more direct and preferable because it shows both the subject and what the subject’s acting on, the object.

  • Passive: The king is murdered. Who did it? Who knows? There’s no subject.
  • Active: Macbeth murders the king. Who did it? Macbeth.

Are the words suited for an academic paper?

Slang is not always appropriate for an academic paper. Other words can be too general, such as “bad” or “good.” Some words may not convey the degree of professionalism students need to show in their writing. At the same time, papers shouldn't be overloaded with big words that you have to look up. It's ok for the student to use their own vocabulary.

  • Nonacademic: Lady Macbeth feels bad because she helped her husband kill the king.
  • Academic: Lady Macbeth is troubled by her assistance in the murder of the king.

Quick tips for peer editing:

  1. Be respectful. Give the sort of helpful comments that you would like to receive.
  2. Comment with questions, such as “Is this your thesis?” or “What exactly do you mean by this?”
  3. Be specific about strengths and weaknesses. “Work on your transitions” is less clear than “What sentence connects your first and second paragraphs?” “I like this” is not as helpful as “This sentence shows me exactly what the main idea of this paragraph is.”
  4. Remember, grammar isn't everything. The main focus of a peer editing session is to see that the student has a clear, readable, and logical argument. 
  5. Write a list of comments or suggestions at the end of the paper in order of importance. If a student has a problem with subject-verb agreement but also doesn't’t have a thesis, the thesis is the more important issue for them to address.
  6. You’re here to help each other, so relax!
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