Peer Editing

  • The following are basic instructions on how to edit each other's papers.

    Write your name and e-mail address in the upper right-hand corner of the first page, like this:

    EDITOR: Jane McTavish


    The editor gives the edited paper back to the author on “peer editing” day. The author uses the edits to revise the paper, and then turns in all the edits with the paper. The professor grades the edits and returns them to the editors.

    You can write on the paper, either in the margins or throughout the text. General and longer comments should be written at the end of the paper (if there is room) or on a separate sheet of paper that you attach.

    On peer editing day, you should explain or add to your comments during discussion, but written comments are more likely to be remembered and used.

    Your Role as a Peer Editor

    You are not grading this paper. You are reacting to it as a reader. No matter how polished or unpolished your writing skills are, you will have valuable feedback for the writer. The writer will learn whether the paper’s argument made sense and persuaded you as a reader. No writer is under any obligation to make changes based on your comments. You are simply giving your questions, opinions, and suggestions, which the writer is free to incorporate, modify, or ignore. Remember: Your role is to be the writer’s ally in an effort to make this essay as good as it can be. If something is good, say so. But only saying “this is good” will not help the writer to improve the draft.

    Why Do Peer Editing?

    Many past students in Honors Core have said that this process, while daunting and uncomfortable at first, was ultimately one of the most valuable things about the course. You will see things in other people’s writing that you are unable to see in your own writing because you are too close to your own work. You will see that writing is often not a matter of right or wrong, but of what works best with a given topic or audience. You will get a chance to read the writing of your peers and exchange ideas in a more developed format than class discussion affords.

    How to Begin: The First Reading

    Do not attempt to take out a red pen and correct commas and spelling errors on the first reading. In fact, you should probably read the paper all the way through once before making any written comments. Give yourself a chance to become familiar with the paper before making suggestions. On this first reading, concentrate on the ideas in the paper. Focus on what you think the writer is trying to prove and the argument that is supposed to persuade you.

    On the Second Reading

    Now you are ready to begin making comments.

    The Thesis Statement and the Idea of the Paper. This is the most important part of the paper to think about and help the writer with. It will also take the most thinking work on your part. Attempt to identify the writer’s thesis statement. Underline it (or highlight it or circle it) and write THESIS in the margin.

    1. Is the thesis a good one that can sustain a strong paper? Is it focused and controversial, or is it too broad and bland? Are any words ambiguous and in need of definition? Is the thesis consistent with what the paper is really trying to prove? [Sometimes you can’t find a clear thesis, or you find what appears to be a thesis, but the rest of the paper goes in another direction. If either of these things happens, try to tell the writer what the real main argument of the paper seems to be (that is, compose a thesis that seems to fit the body of the paper.)]
    1. Now, with the thesis firmly in mind, ask yourself after every paragraph: Is the connection of this paragraph to the thesis statement clear? If not, would a better topic sentence clarify? Write on the paper! Does the writer have any extraneous material that needs to be cut because it doesn’t relate to the thesis (and can’t be made to do so)?

    Support for the Thesis Statement. Is the writer making a good convincing case? Are there good reasons presented in favor of the argument, and valid and concrete examples to support each reason? Can you think of other examples which the author might use effectively? Does the logic make sense? Should any paragraphs be moved around (would it be more effective to present the reasons or examples in a different order)? Are there places where the writer appears to be jumping to conclusions, or has simply left out steps in the reasoning? Does the writer effectively use paragraphs to help you see the progression of the argument? If you were writing this paper, what would you change in the argument and support? Can you think of any counterarguments that the writer should consider?

    1. Give the writer specific suggestions wherever possible. Instead of just saying, “This is unclear,” try, “This is unclear because you seem to be leaving something out. I think you mean_______. Is that right?”
    2. Does the conclusion to the paper reiterate the thesis statement and highlight the main points of the argument? Does the writer avoid the trap of introducing a new idea in the conclusion when there’s no space left to support it?

    On the Third Reading

    Once you have made your suggestions about the ideas in the paper, you can turn to smaller matters.

    1. Look at the title and introduction to the paper. Do they intrigue you and lead you into the writer’s argument? Do you have suggestions for making them better?
    2. Look at the format of the paper. Does the writer follow MLA guidelines for margins, title, citations, etc.? Your handbook explains these guidelines. You can refer to pages or sections in the handbook. Is there a “Works Cited” page?
    3. Look at the mechanics and language of the paper. If you see errors, point them out. If you only suspect an error, point it out with a question mark. You are not obliged to point out every single error. It will be the writer’s job to fine-tune the mechanics. Does the writer use any colloquial expressions or slang inappropriately in a formal paper? Are there word choices that confused you?


    Make some concluding remarks. It’s a good idea to tell the writer two things you really liked about the paper, as well as to give an overview and to explain any complex thoughts you couldn’t write in the margins.