Consider these suggestions when critiquing documents in group situations.
In a writing course you have an excellent opportunity to have your work read and evaluated by your peers. Rather than merely imagine how a potential audience might respond to your work, you can meet with classmates and discuss your ideas for writing projects or evaluate drafts.
Ten Tips to Provide Feedback in Group Situations
1. Appoint someone in your group to keep track of discussion time so that each writer’s work receives roughly the same amount of attention.
2. Do not try to transform the peer review workshop into a collaborative writing exercise. There simply isn’t time in most peer group situations to solve every problem that people raise. Instead, consider the group’s ideas and suggestions as a whole.
3. Bring work to the group that is worthy of consideration. Offering scribbled notes is as much an insult as coming to a birthday party without a gift. If you are not ready to share your work, then let your group know so that your leader can give you an alternative assignment. Offering criticism to others if you haven’t performed your own tasks isn’t fair. When it’s your turn to have your work reviewed, identify any particular issues, problems, and questions that you have. For example, let your group know if you are uncomfortable with your voice. Give them a sense of how complete you believe your work is. When you provide feedback in group situations like this, your peers are more likely to give you honest, helpful feedback if they believe you are open to advice and criticism.
4. Once the members in your group begin to report on your work, remain silent and listen until they are finished making suggestions, questions, or observations. After all, your goal is not to argue about what you meant to say, but to learn how they perceived what you meant. You should feel free to interrupt only if their discussion wanders off course or ask questions to help clarify their criticisms.
5. Each writer should read his or her piece aloud to the others in the group. Although this may seem awkward or time consuming, you will find that hearing writing helps you revise writing! Remember also to speak slowly when you read your work aloud. Although you may be very familiar with your work, your peers are hearing it for the first time.
6. Expect a little confusion. Responding to writing is much like writing itself; sometimes you need to stumble around a while before accurately identifying and articulating the problem that you have perceived.
7. When criticizing a peer’s manuscript, remember that authorship is ownership. Your proper role is consultant, not coauthor. When the purpose of the writer’s work is unclear, do not necessarily assume that you know exactly what the writer hopes to do. Instead of explaining how you would revise the manuscript, focus on explaining your response to it. Point out places in your peer’s writing that don’t seem effective, even if you cannot suggest exact ways to improve them. After all, when a document is still in rough form, you cannot presume to know what, ultimately, the writer will do with it. For many of us, there is an enormous gap between rough and final drafts. As readers we need to respect this distinction and provide the sort of commentary that will encourage authors to develop manuscripts in ways that they believe are appropriate.
8. Speak to each other. Remember that it is much easier for all of us to critique other people’s manuscripts than our own. Draw on your background as a reader to identify weak passages. If you are unsure about what a passage means, tell the author and explain the nature of your confusion. Nothing is gained if you do not elaborate on your impressions and thoughts. And don’t neglect to praise well‑written work. Point out the strengths as well as the weaknesses of each manuscript. Use this opportunity to provide feedback in group situations to benefit both the reader and the author.
9. Avoid global, general comments like “I think the paper is good.” Although somewhat helpful, general responses are usually too vague to help your peers improve their work. Whenever possible, try to isolate your comments to particular aspects of your peer’s text.
10. When concluding a review of a peer’s manuscript, group members should try to summarize their most important criticisms. Because reasonable people can still disagree about the quality of a manuscript after much discussion, group members should not feel that the critique went poorly if they cannot reach consensus about how to best improve a document. It’s normal and acceptable for some disagreement to exist about the best ways to improve a draft.