How to Peer Edit an Essay
Peer to peer learning is very important for writers. Writers work alone, most of the time, and writers are highly sensitive about their own work. Sometimes, you might be put into a situation where you will have to peer edit an essay, probably in a school setting or as a part of a writing workshop. Also, if your friends are writers, you might be asked to peer edit not just an essay, but a larger piece of work as well, like a short story, a novella, and maybe even a novel.
Also, knowing how to peer edit an essay can help you edit your own work as well. There are three steps to follow when you are peer editing an essay, and we will get to them below, but first, let’s take a look at what peer editing actually means.
What is peer editing?
Peer editing refers to editing a piece of writing written by a person who is equal to you in skills and abilities, or age, or both. In a school setting, your peers are your classmates. If you’re attending a writers’ workshop, the same will apply. And once someone else’s writing finds its way to you for peer editing, you might be tempted to just jump in and edit their grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors and be done with it.
However, put yourself into the writer’s shoes: would you really be that worried about grammar and spelling error? Or, would you prefer to receive constructive feedback?
Constructive feedback is necessary with peer editing
Anyone can notice a few grammar and spelling errors. However, it will be your writer peers who will be able to give you constructive feedback. Receiving constructive feedback is what makes peer editing so beneficial to all writers. Constructive feedback contains two steps: complimenting the writer and offering suggestions.
When you’re complimenting the writer, you will point out everything that you believe the writer has done right. For example, you might compliment the topic of their essay, their word choice, the structure of the essay, and other things. This will have a positive effect on the writer. Remember, your goal is not to discourage the writer, but to offer constructive feedback. If you only focus on what should be improved – and if the first part of your feedback is focused on improvement – the writer might start feeling incompetent and defensive, which will have a negative effect and render the peer editing useless in the end.
The second step, which is offering suggestions, is also a delicate step. Here, you can point out what you think should be improved, but you must present this as an opinion in the form of a suggestion, instead of saying that the structure of the essay, for example, was completely wrong. Again, you don’t want to discourage the writer, you want to help them improve, but you’re not helping when you’re just pointing out what is wrong without offering suggestions on how that can be fixed.
These two steps are very important, and are easier to understand via examples. Below, we will take a look at each step and explain how it is done, as well as offer helpful tips for each.
Step one: Praising the writer and offering compliments
This step is supposed to be easy, right? Just read the essay, find the things that you like and tell the writer. Only, what happens when the essay is mostly badly written, needs a lot of improvements, and you cannot find anything to compliment the writer on?
For that reason, in the first step, you need to at least compliment the writer on the topic they’ve chosen, the opinion they’ve shared, and your favorite thing about the essay.
The topic: You can always compliment the author on the topic they’ve chosen. You can offer your opinion on it, and why you find the topic interesting. This will break the ice between yourself and the writer, and the writer will be more receptive to everything you will have to say after that. In comparison, if you begin by saying that you don’t really care for the topic, you will create a barrier between you two. Instead, if you’re not interested in the topic, you can tell the writer that you’re not very knowledgeable about it. You will prompt them to explain why they’ve chosen the topic, again, breaking the ice in a positive way, rather than creating a barrier.
Their opinion: Writers share their thoughts through their writing. If you agree with the opinions the writer shared in the essay, you should tell them so. Again, this will create a connection between you two, and the writer will not feel animosity towards you. However, if you disagree with their opinion, instead of saying that directly, you can say that their opinion is interesting, and ask them the reasons why they think that way. This will prompt a friendly discussion, rather than generate animosity.
Favorite part: Whether you are peer editing an essay, or a novella or a novel, always make sure to have a favorite part. The favorite part doesn’t necessarily have to be the best part of the essay, but, you definitely have to present it as such. The good news is that you can choose anything. It can be a specific word the writer has chosen, or it can be a phrase, or how they have described something. Remember, you should always tell the writer what your favorite part was because the writer will understand that you read their essay with care – and you enjoyed it enough to have a favorite part.
Things to remember about the first step:
- Always be positive;
- Use the highest praises you can – but remain realistic;
- Don’t compliment something you think should be improved;
- Your goal is to be positive and start the peer editing process on a positive note;
- Show interest into the topic and the writer’s opinions, even if you disagree;
- Enable the writer to tell you more about the topic, and they may even explain what their thoughts were as they were writing the essay;
- Always have a favorite part or thing about the essay.
Step two: Making suggestions
In this step, you will talk about things that need to be improved. This step is important because you need to be careful not to do some of the following things:
- Make the writer feel insecure;
- Insult or hurt them by being too harsh;
- Offer problems and not solutions;
- Use derogatory language that will generate negativity between you two.
It’s very easy to make peer editing a negative experience for the writer if you let go and be a very harsh critic. While it is advisable to offer as many suggestions as possible, focus first on the top three or four things the writer should improve upon, which will be your major suggestions, and then if you still find more things to improve, mention them in passing.
Here are a few examples of what you shouldn’t do:
- Don’t say, “I see a lot of room for improvement here.” This will make the writer feel as though their essay is not good at all and that it needs a lot of work. Instead, you can say, “I have a few suggestions that might help the essay read better.”
- At any point, do not say words that are negative. For example, do not say something like “The essay reads as if it was written by a child.” While that example is extreme, even the smallest negative word can have a very big negative effect.
- Do not tell the writer things they’ve done wrong. That’s what offering suggestions is all about. Instead of saying, “You’ve used the word good so many times it makes reading the essay boring,” you can say, “The word “good” appears a lot in this essay, don’t you think? Do you think you could use another word, like excellent, or great?”
Most importantly, do not offer problems without solutions. If you think that there is room for improvements, you need to suggest how the writer can do this. Don’t say things like, “The structure of your essay is not good enough,” without offering tips on how the writer can change that. This is the reason why the second phase is in forms of suggestions.
Making suggestions instead of telling the writer what he or she has done wrong ensures that you don’t discourage the writer by negative comments and offer tips for improvement at the same time. Meanwhile, always remember to propose these suggestions in the form of a question, like:
- Do you think you could explain this part a bit more?
- Do you think you could use a stronger word here?
- Using the word superb here might be a little strong. Do you think you could use another word instead?
- Do you think that you can make this sentence shorter?
In this manner, you are prompting the writer to take a second look at the essay and see for themselves that the sentence is long, or that the word superb might be pretty strong in that part of the essay. You can do this for every area of improvement that you see in the essay.
Best of all is that you will not discourage the writer and make him or her feel bad. Instead, you are offering the type of constructive feedback that every writer needs, without crippling them in the process. Moreover, by phrasing suggestions as questions, you are putting a stronger emphasis on the fact that you and the writer are peers: that means equal in ability (or age) – instead of making the writer feel inferior to you.
Step three: Correcting grammar and spelling errors
This step isn’t the most important when it comes to the whole process, but you still should point out the spelling errors, wrong words, homonyms, and grammar errors that have slipped into the essay. This step is important to make the essay correct, but it will not have an impact on the essay or on the writer.
Most writers are fine with making spelling and grammar errors in the first draft and editing them out later, unless they are perfectionists who want to get everything right on the first try. Regardless, just because you offered constructive feedback in the first two steps, it doesn’t mean that you are entitled to skipping this step.
Moreover, two pairs of eyes going over the same essay will catch most, if not all, grammar and spelling errors, and make sure that the essay is the best version of itself it can be. This is important because it’s very easy for homonyms, for example, to go unnoticed (which is the reason why a lot of people today can barely tell the difference between you’re, your, they’re, their, were, we’re, and so on – they all sound the same). However, these types of spelling errors need to be eradicated from the essay.
Tips and tricks for peer editing
Peer editing needs, ultimately, to help the writer improve upon the essay and improve his or her writing in the future. However, you can also make peer editing more fun, interesting, and productive as well, by using some of the following tips:
- Create a grading system, where you award one or two, or more stars, for sections like: writing, word choice, sentence structure, use of adverbs, etc.
- Explain why you’re giving each compliment – not just saying that you liked something, but that you liked it because it brought a good image, or explained the point really well, etc.
- Talk to the writer as if you’re best friends, even if you’re strangers;
- Always try to be compassionate and empathetic – especially if you’re going to peer editing the writer’s essay tomorrow;
- Always be positive and use complimentary words;
- Treat improvements as things that the writer has not yet done (instead of presenting them as things the writer would have never done);
- Being friendly and positive will make the whole process easier and more interesting, instead of acting cold and professional all the time.
Have you ever peer edited someone else’s essay? Please share your experiences in the comments box below!
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