Part 8: Interpersonal communications
In many writing classes, students are expected to learn how to give feedback to their peers (commonly called peer review). At first, this may seem intimidating. You may think, “I’m not a teacher–how can I give useful feedback to another student?” What you CAN do is give your classmates an honest reaction as a reader and give advice based on your own experience. It is ultimately up to the person receiving the feedback to decide if they want to use the feedback they receive. If you feel unsure of your ability to give feedback, remember that you are learning from the process too. If you are unsure about the feedback you receive, you can choose to ignore it or check with your instructor. Being able to give feedback professionally is a powerful skill you will use throughout your career.
Giving peer feedback
When your role in peer review is to give feedback, your job is to help the writer by giving your reaction. Think about the kind of feedback you would like to get and also how you would like that feedback to be given. What follows here are some basic rules to follow for responding to someone else’s writing.
First, listen to the writer. What kind of feedback are they asking for? Do they want to know if their message purpose is clear? Do they have questions about citing sources? Make a note about what kind of feedback the writer has requested and keep that in mind as you respond.
Be kind. When you are receiving criticism, isn’t it easier to hear if the person giving the criticism is kind and respectful to you? Do the same for your peer. This doesn’t mean you avoid should avoid pointing out what could be improved; rather, it means you should take care to think about your tone, word choice, and delivery in providing feedback on things that could be improved.
Comment on the higher order concerns first. That means asking questions about anything that confuses you, checking to see if the writing did what the assignment called for, and considering if the order of the message makes sense.
Use “I” statements to help stay focused on your reaction to the writing. For example, instead of saying, “You aren’t clear in this paragraph,” try saying, “I’m confused in this paragraph. Did you mean X or Y?”
Be specific. When your feedback includes statements like “I liked it” or “It was good,” follow up with an explanation of exactly what you liked or thought was good. The same goes for criticism; say exactly what confused you or what was missing.
Ask questions. Use questions to clarify what the writer means, what the resources given are saying, and what the writer is trying to do.
Offer advice based on your own experience. Be specific and provide options, if possible. For example, you could say “If this were my message, based on my experience, you could do A, B, or C.”
Don’t try to make the writer sound like you. If a word is the wrong word, then note that. However, if you just think of a word you like better, that’s just a matter of style and voice.
Don’t edit your peer’s writing for them. If you find the writer has a lot of issues or errors with writing mechanics, such as spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence construction, paragraphing, please do make note these issues exist. However, the responsibility for correcting these errors and rewriting the material to correct these problems lies with the writer, not with you. Providing feedback is helpful, but rewriting someone’s work is plagiarism and can carry serious academic consequences.
Mention what works well AND what could be improved. Imagine you were throwing a ball at a target on the wall with your eyes closed. It seems reasonable to assume you might be missing the target more than you were hitting it. Now imagine if you only heard from those around you what could be improved. Based on that feedback of what you could improve, you may or may not be able to adjust your throws and get the ball on the target. Conversely, if you only heard from those around you what you were doing well, you again may or may not be able to adjust your throws and get the ball on target. However, by combining these two aspects of feedback–what works well AND what could be improved–you’re providing the person with a more wholesome view of their efforts and work, and providing them better guidance around how to improve. It does not serve them well to only provide one-sided feedback, so make sure you mention what works well AND what could be improved.
Make the most of peer feedback
Let’s now consider your role in receiving feedback. Are you eager to get feedback? Scared to share your work? If you are receiving feedback from your peers, remember that ultimately YOU get to decide what feedback to accept and what to ignore. If you don’t think the feedback is correct, ask your instructor what they think.
One way to improve the feedback you get is to ask for the kind of feedback you want. Don’t be afraid to give your peer reviewer some direction.
Listen to or read the feedback with an open mind. Consider that the peer reviewer is your reader. It’s good to know what a real reader got out of your writing.
If you aren’t sure about the feedback or feel upset about it, reconsider the suggestions after a break. It’s okay to say, “I’ll think about that.” If you feel that the reviewer is trying to change your style so that the paper doesn’t sound like you anymore, consider whether the feedback helps you make the paper better. If not, feel free to set that feedback aside.
This chapter contains material from “Giving and receiving feedback” in The Word on College Reading and Writing by M. Babin, C. Burnell, S. Pesznecker, N. Rosevear, and J. Wood and is used under a CC-BY-NC 4.0 International license.