In the workplace, writing is often collaborative, which means you will often need to give your peers feedback about their writing. Sometimes, your job will be to review the content of a piece to make sure it’s accurate. More often, however, you will need to point out areas where the writing isn’t clear, is too wordy, or doesn’t meet the purpose of the message. Sometimes, you might even need to give your boss feedback.
Different writers have different levels of sensitivities to getting feedback, so while some coworkers might appreciate a straightforward approach, others will need a softer, more indirect approach. If you don’t have a lot of practice with giving feedback, you might accidentally offend your colleague or give vague advice that doesn’t help him or her improve. You might speak in unhelpful terms like “I like this” or “this is good.”
That’s why we practice peer review in class. Learning how to discuss a peer’s writing in a way that is actually helpful is a valuable skills: one that takes practice. But peer review also helps you learn about the writing process itself. When you study work by established writers, you’re seeing a final draft: something that a writer and editor have worked on extensively. You don’t see the months or years of work, the back-and-forth between the writer and the editor, and all of the revisions. In short, you see the final product but not the process it took to get there.
It can also be very hard to see our own writing from the perspective of a reader. That’s why it’s much easier to spot issues in a classmates’ writing than it is to spot the same issue in our own writing. For example, a writing instructor may have suggested that you break up longer sentences to make them easy for the reader to understand, but you resisted making the changes because you like writing them. During peer review, however, you might find yourself reading a classmates’ long sentence three times to understand the meaning. Because you experience that frustration as a reader, you might be able to see how your own long sentences impact your readers.
One great way to be helpful to your reviewing partner and avoid hurting their feelings is to think yourself as a fellow reader, not a judge. Speak about how the work impacts you. After all, another reader might have a totally different reaction. It’s also a great idea to ask questions. So, instead of saying, “This paragraph doesn’t make any sense,” you might say, “I couldn’t connect this paragraph to the thesis. How do you think it relates?”
The following essay from Writing Commons will help you to navigate the tricky process of peer review.