SUNY Geneseo Department of Mathematics

General Peer Review Guidelines

Intd 105 20
Fall 2019
Prof. Doug Baldwin

Here are some suggestions for things to think about as you peer review each other’s draft essays. These are general suggestions that apply to any peer review we do in this course. I may provide additional guidelines for specific essays later, but these provide a good starting point in all cases.

First and foremost, try to remember that peer review is about helping each other make your essays better, not about finding problems in them. (I realize that this sentiment sounds much better in theory than it will seem in practice, partly because so much academic evaluation seems to view anything that’s not perfect as wrong, and partly because if an essay has problems, fixing them is certainly a good way to make it better. But all the same, focus on peer review as a way to improve things, not as a way to highlight problems.)

When it comes to the actual conduct of a peer review, try the following stages, more or less in the order given (these are inspired by, although my interpretation of, a short summary of the process Writing Learning Center tutors follow in their consultations):


If you, as author, have questions about your draft, or anything about it that you’d like suggestions on, start the review by getting the reviewer’s feedback on those things.

Thematic Issues

As a reviewer, ask yourself if the essay has a clear “big picture.” Is it making some main point (i.e., an “I say”), and is it clear what that point is? Paraphrase that main point in one sentence of your own words; if that misses or distorts the point the author was trying to make, work together to find ways to communicate the point more clearly. If you are a reviewer, never, let an author persuade you that it’s your fault if you missed their point — if you missed it so will other readers, and it’s the author’s job to reach even those readers. Conversely, if you are an author, never agree that a reviewer kind of got your point if that’s not what you really feel — any misunderstanding of what you tried to say is a chance to improve the work.

Beyond simply making some point, writing should also convince readers that the point matters somehow, and, ideally, should leave readers “fired up” to learn more, take some action, or otherwise engage further in the conversation the essay is part of. As a reviewer, look for places where the essay does these things, and talk about ways of doing them that would work well for you.

Later we’ll narrow this discussion of “main points” down to “theses,” i.e., claims that an author is arguing for, but even essays that aren’t particularly arguing for something still need a point.


Does the essay have a logical structure, typically including

As you read an essay, is it always clear where you are within the structure? Are transitions between the parts clear?

Reviewers, as you read the essay, see if you can think of things that could be added to any section to make it play its role more fully. Or, perhaps you will think of things that can be removed to make a section more focused on what it truly needs to do.


Finally, discuss any suggestions or questions related to improving grammar, usage, etc. Concentrate on places where mechanics genuinely make the writing hard to follow rather than on purely formal concerns. These discussions are likely to occupy a larger part of a peer review when the author isn’t writing in their native language than when they are, and it’s entirely appropriate for that to happen.