Peer Review

Peer review is a natural fit for science communication settings, because it is such a vital component of the scientific publishing process. Thus, involving students in peer review may not only improve students’ writing, but also their understanding of science and engagement with it as a discipline. It will also help them see the benefit of giving and receiving constructive feedback and of considering different opinions.

In this podcast, we hear from two instructors with experience in integrating peer review into their classes. They pass on their own tips for getting the most out of the process, and for inspiring students to buy in to any related exercises.

We have created a number of complementary resources that will help you run successful peer review sessions in your classes. These are available to download once you have contacted a site administrator here. Once you have provided your details (including a verifiable academic institution email address) you will receive a password that will enable you to download the materials.

Peer Review: In-Class Practice Session

This in-class peer-review practice session is designed to give students some experience of the process before working with real examples provided by their peers. It should take approximately 50 minutes. The main aims are to consider what sort of feedback is most useful, what sort of language offers constructive help, and how to go about providing feedback to avoid editing an entire piece of writing.

You should hand out copies of the sample Essay for Feedback – Peer Review Exercise and the Giving Effective Feedback – Peer Review – Student Handout documents found in Using Peer Review.

Session Timeframe

The session can be broken down as follows:

1. Five minutes: Put students into groups of 3-5 and share the sample essay and the assignment details so the students know what the original task was for the essay author:

The author needed to write a short argumentative essay in which he/she answered the following prompt: ‘Should limited research funds be allocated to basic or applied research projects?’ They should have taken a stance and defended it by making claims and supported them with specific pieces of evidence.

2. Five minutes: Review higher and lower-order concerns and ask student to prioritize their responses accordingly.

Higher-order concerns include things such as poor logic, organization, and not backing claims up with evidence, whereas lower-order concerns include things such as poor grammar, over-use of jargon, and a lack of transitions and everyday analogies.

3. Five minutes: Talk about using constructive and productive language, even when it may be challenging, and refer students to their Effective Feedback handout for further guidance and some examples.

Ask the students to think about how they could best help the author improve their work as a direct result of the feedback they provide. Stress the importance of being supportive yet honest, and being very specific in their feedback.

4. Fifteen minutes: Have each group read the sample essay and talk about what feedback they would give the author. Check in with each group throughout, answer questions, etc. Ask each group to come up with specific feedback.
5. Ten minutes: Each group must delegate a speaker to come up and share that feedback with the class as if the class was the student who wrote the piece.
6. Ten minutes/debrief: Compare the feedback offered by each group, and ask the class as a whole which feedback worked, and which didn’t? Why? How did the class feel in general when the feedback was shared with them?

Giving Effective Feedback – Peer Review

Tips and Example Feedback

Try to follow some of these tips when giving feedback to your peer(s), and always try to imagine things from their perspective; ask yourself whether your peer(s) will be able to use your feedback to improve their writing.

1. Be supportive as well as honest

  1. “This paragraph confuses me because…”
  2. “You have an interesting detail here that I almost missed because…”
  3. “Your opening thesis statement told me exactly what you were going to argue, but the logic of your argument was hard to follow because…”

2. Be specific (why is something confusing?)

  1. “This word means something different to me because…”
  2. “I am not sure which example you are referring to here because…”
  3. “This sentence might be clearer if you wrote it in the active voice because…”

3. Write comments on the draft and use additional paper if you need to

  1. Make sure these comments are specific and easy to interpret
  2. Try not to edit someone’s work; instead, tell them how they can edit it
  3. Use a coding system to highlight related errors/issues (e.g. circles around tense issues, underline sections where the logic doesn’t flow…)

4. Keep feedback confidential

5. Focus on the paper, not the person

6. Use plenty of “I” statements to de-personalize your feedback (rather than “You” statements, which can make people uncomfortable)

  1. “At this point, I thought the essay was going to next consider…”
  2. “I would probably find this section easier to understand if…”
  3. “I like the way this point is connected to the next one, and would find the argument easier to follow if all the points were connected like this…”

7. Provide suggestions rather than commands

  1. “Consider moving this point up one paragraph so that it follows on directly from this point…”
  2. “I think this section would be easier to read if it was written in the active voice…”
  3. “It might be worth finding another example that provides support for this claim to make the argument more convincing…”

Should limited research funds be allocated to basic or applied research projects?

Scientific research can be conducted as basic or applied, basic research is more general and includes learning about topics such as insect behaviour whereas applied research is instead performed with a more specific goal in mind to solve particular problems such as how to prevent the spread of malaria with different kinds of drugs in areas affected by malaria. Both research types are different but both are important for improve human quality of life.

Basic research is very important becase without building a foundation of knowledge it is very hard to tackle specific problems in the world. For example, basic research like people investigating the manifold ways in which chemical compounds react and bind with one another in solutions and how these ways are affected by the molecular structure of the compounds is very important. Deadly diseases have been responsible for huge numbers of deaths in years gone by but the field of medicine has successfully developed medicines that treat and cure many of these. All treatments must be tested carefully in applied testing trials before it is used to save lives, however it is very rare that it could be developed at all without there being prior knowledge about how it might be made to specifically tackle the disease agent which is why it is so important to have deon the initial applied work. So it is very important that basic research is performed, that can show things such as in what conditions the drug might be good, whether there might be similar compounds from other sources that might do the same thing etc. Applied research builds on this detailed, broad knowedge in a more specific way. A good example is that knowledge of the molecular structure of certain compounds can be used by those with a mind to work out why they might react different in different environments. If certain compounds reacted differently with water than with dry earths then agriculturalists might research different mixes of compounds used as fertilisers to be used by farmers in different environments that are wet or dry. So they might predict and be right that one is more useful in the pacific northwest than in California and arizona and save money and produce more crops in the two regions. Basic research does often enhance knowledge that can be used to solve problems in an unexpected way too though, and this is a major reason why it is very important to improve science as a whole. For example, scientists performed basic research into the way that sharks skin cells aligned with each other after they noticed how rough they felt to the touch. Further down the line, unrelated research teams used the data to perform applied research and design clothing materials for people working in harsh enivieonrments like extremely cold places or where there is a need to not tear clothing like in a building where corrosive or poisonous solutions will be regularly used.

To summarize, I think that basic and applied research are both important and scientists should continue to work at both types so that more general and specific discoveries can be made to significantly improve the quality of life that we as people will enjoy because if only one type of research had been performed in the past we might not have done many important things such as reduced the spread of malaria, investigated the likelihood of life existing on Mars, or even invented the iPad.

Author’s Name: __________________
Your Name: __________________

Instructions to author: When the peer review begins, take notes. These notes are for your own benefit when revising and do not need to be submitted. Listen to your peer and avoid getting defensive or apologizing.

Instructions to peer reviewer: Read this peer review form first, and then read your peer’s paper. You can make annotations on the paper, and/or on this form. The paper’s author will keep this form and the annotated paper. You will also have the chance to present your comments, clarify your points and make suggestions during a conversation with your peer.

Identify the paragraph or section of the paper that you think is most effective, and draw a box around it. For this section of the paper, please answer the following questions:

1) What makes this section the most effective? Be specific in your answer.

2) What is the role of this section in helping you understand the science that the author is reporting?

Identify the paragraph or section of the paper that you think is least effective, and draw a circle around it. For this section of the paper, please answer the following questions:
Does this section advance the point the author is trying to make?
Is the content of the section problematic?
Is the organization of the section problematic?
Is the writing in this section problematic?
Provide suggestions for improvement of this section. Make a minimum of one suggestion.

If the paper includes errors in any of the following, circle it here and on the paper draft. Try to include helpful comments about the errors.
topic sentences colon
paragraph structure semicolon
active & passive voice capitals
numbers/units apostrophe
comma hyphen
plurals abbreviation/acronym
Keeping in mind the target audience, answer the following questions:
Is the tone of the paper appropriate?
Is the level of scientific knowledge required of the reader appropriate?
Is the technical language appropriate (e.g. too much jargon)?
Are headings used logically to divide up the paper?
Are there any instances of awkward or ambiguous wording?
Is the paper largely free of grammatical or spelling errors?
Check individual parts of paper and flag problem areas:
Abstract: Are the core contents of the paper concisely described?
Introduction: Is the rationale or motivation explained?
Introduction: Is sufficient background provided for the study?
Methods: Is there enough detail to allow another scientist to repeat the study?
Results: Are the results presented in a clearly organized manner?
Discussion: Are the findings accurately interpreted? i.e. are there errors in the science?
Discussion: Are interesting implications of the findings described?
Discussion: Is each conclusion supported by sufficient evidence (data, examples)?
Discussion: Are limitations or remaining questions assessed?
Figures/Tables: Do these improve the readability of the paper?
If you answered ‘No’ to any of the above, provide the author a brief explanation below.

Use this space to make additional comments about formatting or style and/or to note concerns you have about this paper not meeting the expectations or goals of the assignment.

Peer Review In-Class Practice Session

Giving Effective Feedback – Peer Review - Student Handout

Essay For Feedback - Peer Review Exercise

Peer Review Rubric

The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for suggested solutions password protected page for: In-class practice session solutions