how to write an essay

Peer Review

Why do peer review?

Your teacher is not always going to be around to give you comments and tell you what to revise, edit, delete, or add in your papers. A good writing course ultimately teaches you how to be your own best critic. The goal of peer review, then, is to help you develop independent critical thinking and self-reliance in your writing so that when the course is over and the teacher is gone, you can still critique your and your peers' writing -- and critique it well. Additionally, peer review gives you a glimpse into another student's perspective and approach on the same assignment. This new perspective may allow you to see your own writing in a new light.

How do I review my peer's essay?

Sometimes when students don't have clear guidelines about what to look for in their peers' essays, the comments they give are short, vague, and unhelpful. This is why I've prepared a list of highly detailed questions to ask that will ensure you properly evaluate your peer's essay. You can use these questions to do a self-review of your own paper as well, of course. Sometimes self-reviews are even more helpful. The following are twenty questions to answer. You can either answer them from here or download a Word document with the questions and type your responses. When finished, send the document as an attachment to the author of the essay.

  1. What is one thing the writer does well in this essay?

  2. What is the one big thing the writer needs to work on with this essay?

  3. What is the writer's main point? Phrase it briefly in your own words.

  4. Is the main point an arguable assertion (it should be)? Could someone argue an opposing or contrasting point of view? What would that contrasting point be?

  5. Does the essay offer insights that go beyond the obvious and offer original observations? How so? Did you learn something new from reading the essay? What? Why not?

  6. Does the introduction lead up to the thesis in a smooth, informative way? If not, what do you suggest the writer do?

  7. Is the thesis placed in a clear manner near the end of the introduction?

  8. Does each paragraph begin with a topic sentence? Do the topic sentences correctly describe the main points of the paragraphs?

  9. Does each of the topic sentences tie back to the thesis?

  10. Are the paragraphs proportionately balanced? Are there any really short paragraphs that could be developed more? Long paragraphs that could be broken or shortened?

  11. Does each paragraph develop one main idea? What are the main ideas of each of the paragraphs? Write them out briefly (5 words or less each). If any paragraph is particularly difficult to pin down, perhaps the focus is off.

  12. Does the writer offer evidence for the points he or she makes in each paragraph? If so, is the evidence convincing?

  13. Does the conclusion briefly summarize in a fresh way the writer's main argument and then end on a memorable note (such as a quotation, thought, image, or call to action)? What is that memorable impression that the conclusion leaves?

  14. Are quotations integrated smoothly? Do they flow with the grammar of the sentence? Are authors named in signal phrases or source titles put in parentheses after the quotations?

  15. Is there a Works Cited page reflecting each author quoted in the body of the essay?

  16. Are the entries of the Works Cited page in correct MLA format? Are they alphabetized? Does each entry have all the necessary citation information? Does the Works Cited section appear on its own page?

  17. Is the essay itself formatted correctly (one-inch margins, 12 font Times New Roman text, double-spacing, correct personal details on first page, header with last name and page number)?

  18. Does the essay have a creative title that describes the purpose/point of the paper in a catchy, clear way?

  19. Are there grammar and spelling errors in the essay? 

  20. If you were writing this essay, what would you do differently? Why?

Self Review

If you don't have a peer to review your work, try downloading the following 17 self review questions (.doc).

Tom Johnson. Updated May 2004.