How to be a Great Peer Reviewer

How to be a Great Peer Reviewer

How to be a Great Peer Reviewer banner

Many students struggle to provide effective feedback to each other, resulting in wasted effort, confusion, and more. Read on for tips on how to be a great peer reviewer and turn a stressful task into a worthwhile one.

Assume Generously

It’s difficult to accurately read the tone of a response, especially written feedback from a peer you don’t know personally. Whether you are leaving feedback or receiving it, assume that everyone involved is doing their best to help each other. By assuming your peers mean well, you give them a chance to help you; when you assume bad intentions, you may miss helpful responses.

When sharing your work for review, you likely will feel nervous or apprehensive about others seeing your mistakes. When you review the work of others, remember that they, too, likely felt the same way. Treat the work of others with sensitivity and care, even work you don’t enjoy. You can do this by asking questions and considering the emotions of the person receiving your feedback.

Help Them Realize Their Unique Vision

When you review a piece of your peers’ work, remember that the goal is not for you to help them complete the assignment the way you might complete the assignment. Your goal is to help them be successful in clearly and effectively doing their best work. This means that you should be open to how others complete the assignment; this might mean a different organization, topic, methodology, and more.

To give feedback that helps others reach their goals, read the shared work twice. The first time, look for clues as to their big plans.

Read your peer’s work through one time. Note any places that stand out as particularly clear or unclear to you.

As you re-read and before you respond, consider what you believe their goal(s) to be.

Once you know what your peer is trying to achieve, revisit places that are particularly clear or unclear. How can you strengthen their work in the direction they seem most interested in?

Respect Work in Progress

Many instructors ask students to share feedback on works-in-progress. This means that many of your peers will not be finished with their work when you read it.

When we give feedback on student writing, the JWU Online Writing Coaches begin with the parts of student work that have the biggest impact on the project. We call these “higher-order” concerns. Small issues that are more typically fixed at the end of the writing process are called “later-order” concerns. By attending to higher-order concerns first, we avoid wasting time and effort on later-order concerns that may change through revision. You can apply this same process to your peers’ work!

Rather than focusing, say, on a minor grammar error, you might help your peer write a more effective thesis. Since changing a thesis probably means revisions in multiple parts of an essay, the grammar error might disappear or be addressed.

Rather than focusing on a font size that is too big on a presentation slide, you might prompt your peer to reorganize a section or two. Font sizes might be corrected in final revisions. Generally, it helps to think more about higher-order concerns than later-order concerns when giving peer feedback. This also challenges your peers to carefully proofread and finalize their own work, which takes time and practice.

Read Instructions Carefully

Giving good feedback means understanding what your peer needs to accomplish with their writing. Using the assignment instructions, identify key terms and concepts from the course. As you read your peers’ work and give feedback, refer to those terms and concepts.

Consider the following questions:

  • Is your peer fulfilling the requirements of the assignment? If so, how can they do so more clearly and effectively?
  • How can they incorporate other relevant sources or concepts from the course materials?
  • Is there anything missing or confusing about how they’ve used course materials?
  • If they are not fulfilling the requirements of the assignment, how can they do so? What specific advice can you give?

Be Specific

While any feedback at all is often helpful, the most helpful feedback is specific to the work and goals of your peer. Consider the following:

I’m confused by this.


The second paragraph confuses me, especially when you mention the EU. How does that relate to your thesis?

Be more specific.


When you discuss examples toward the end of your presentation, can you clarify which Olympics you’re referring to and why? I wasn’t sure what you meant.

You may notice that specific responses are often longer since they contain more descriptions. This is one way to know whether you have been specific enough! Two- or three-word responses often do not give enough information to act on.

Peer reviewers can be great, but sometimes you need some support from the experts. If you find yourself struggling with writing, reach out to the JWU Writing Coaches.

Earn your bachelor’s degree or graduate degree from JWU. For more information, complete the Request Info form, call 855-JWU-1881, or email [email protected].

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