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How to Peer Edit an Essay

Everyone needs an editor, even the most successful authors, journalists, and scholars. Likewise, peer editing is an essential part of the process for student writers who want to improve and succeed.

By
Varsity Tutors, as read by Mignon Fogarty,
October 27, 2016
Episode #540

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Everyone needs an editor, even the most successful authors, journalists, and scholars. Likewise, peer editing is an essential part of the process for student writers who want to improve and succeed.

Editing a classmate’s work, however, can be a little stressful for writer and editor alike, but don’t fret the next time you are asked to be a peer editor: It’s totally possible to offer helpful feedback without sending both you and your classmate into a spiral of despair.

Your process will vary depending on whether you’re working in groups in a classroom setting or taking someone else’s essay home to review more in-depth. In either situation, the following approach can help you prove your editing prowess. First, though, here are two reminders about what peer editing is not:

  • A chance to influence the writer’s argument to fit your own opinions.
  • A time to give extensive thoughts that will overwhelm the writer, rather than focusing on whether the essay has a clear and well-made argument that is well written.

With that in mind, try this three-step approach next time you’re asked to be a peer editor:

1. Read First. Judge Later

The first step is to read the essay all the way through without making any marks or comments. It may be difficult, but this is an important step in understanding how to structure your feedback. An initial full reading will help you get familiar with the writer’s style and understand the points the essay is making before you draw any conclusions with your feedback.

During this first reading, focus on what the writer is trying to say, and make sure the points he or she is making are clear. Then, once you’ve gotten to the end, think on a broad level about whether the overall arguments fit together. Questions to ask yourself at this point include

  • Does the essay meet the criteria for the assignment?
  • Is there a clear thesis statement? Does the essay support that thesis with clear topic sentences in the paragraphs that follow?
  • Are there portions that drift off topic or undeveloped conclusions in the closing section?

2. Read Again and Edit

Go through the essay again from the beginning, with your pen ready this time. Highlight sections where you want to record comments or questions. You can also use this second reading to mark any grammatical errors or awkward wording you spot. Look at the writing more closely for common stylistic issues, such as run-on sentences, illogical shifts from past to present tense, or redundancy.

Remember to make note of not only what parts may need improvement, but also parts you think are especially strong! An important element of the peer-editing process is to make sure you’re emphasizing the positives as well as the negatives. If you note some strengths alongside your suggestions for changes, it will not only make the writer feel more confident, it will also make him or her more receptive to constructive criticism.

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