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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Peer Review

About peer review, its role in scholarly publishing, how to do it and best practices

Best Practices for Instructors

As with any other assignment or activity, a peer review exercise should be constructed with learning outcomes in mind.  Do you want students to gain skill in editing?  Do you primarily want them to improve as writers?  Are you using this interactive work to build connection and community within the cohort?  All of the above?  How much time do you have to devote to it?  Would it be more effective to move an in-class session to asynchronous homework?  Is the writing assignment iterative?  Is there a way to make the peer review iterative as well?

figure of 5 Ps of Peer Review, purpose, pedagogy, planning, prizes, and place

from the Centre for Teaching and Learning at Queen's University Peer Review page

First, some best practices on including peer review in your course assignments from several organizations on teaching and learning:

Next, a couple of first-hand accounts of professors changing up how they incorporate the peer review activities and assignments to overcome student disengagement and dissatisfaction with the way it's usually done:

Student Readings to Encourage Best Practices

Students may be engaging in a peer review activity for the first time in your classroom.  As the instructor, try to share one or more example of what is expected, what constitutes good, passable, and poor peer review, and possibly even provide a rubric or worksheet as part of the assignment.  The resources below are written for students performing peer review in the classroom, and go into more detail on these best practices and expectations:

Read the entire work before starting your peer review.

Make notes to yourself as you go, but reading the entire work might clarify things that confused you to start - it might be a stylistic choice.  Respect stylistic choices, because their paper is not and should not be just like your paper.

Be explicit about the parts you liked or thought worked well, not just things to fix.

Not only does this make the feedback feel less negative, it can help guide changes to problem areas.

When you suggest changes, be specific.

"This is unclear" is not helpful.  "The purpose of this sentence/the information it's trying to convey is not clear.  Do you mean XYZ or ABC?"

Describe, Evaluate, Suggest

Take a moment to write out your thinking, how the part you're commenting on caught your attention, before making a suggestion.  The Eli Review resource below has a good video describing the technique.

Be constructive and professional in your review!

Drafts are going to have mistakes - that's why they're not finished yet.  The point of peer review is to improve the work.  That only works if your feedback is understandable, helpful, kindly given.

And one specific example of an assignment from a classroom here on campus: