Archive for the ‘Peer Review’ Category

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"Would you mind reading this and telling me what you think?"

posted: 8.2.11 by Steve Bernhardt

With my coauthor and consulting partner Greg Cuppan, I am now on the third round of revision on a research article to be published (pending revisions) in the Journal of Business and Technical Communication. We’ve had two rounds of review from two anonymous reviewers, plus some feedback from editor David Russell. What’s remarkable is the deep, probing nature of the reviewers’ comments. They are testing our arguments, asking for additional evidence, and challenging our conclusions. They are asking for more context, offering open-ended questions and comments that encourage us to think about what we have written and see our way to substantial revisions. They are often focused on outcomes: what difference will this research make? What behaviors will it change? How can the findings be applied? Many of their queries were made with explicit connections to the audience of JBTC—what the audience would expect, understand, challenge, or need to know.

The review process has been especially interesting for me given the subject of our research.  We investigated document review practices inside pharmaceutical companies as research reports are taken through successive drafts, which are circulated to development teams for peer review. What we found was that the overwhelming preponderance of comments, both on circulated drafts and in long, face-to-face roundtable review sessions, focused on tiny bits—little corrections, word substitutions, rephrasings. Another, less frequent class of comments focused on correctness—were the conditions correctly stated, were the populations correctly described, were the data sets accurate in all details? But what was missing almost totally were comments that challenged the arguments, that tested the conclusions, that asked for more context, or that probed the weaknesses of the links between data and claims. Our drug company reviewers rarely asked about how reports would fare with the intended readers—those regulatory officers who would need to issue approvals for the proposed new drugs. [read more]

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Categories: Peer Review
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Online Peer Review

posted: 2.23.11 by Nedra Reynolds

Like most writing instructors, I have tried peer review in almost every possible configuration, often within the same semester: same groups all semester, different groups every time, self-selected groups, teacher-assigned groups, writer reads aloud, writer shares copies cold, writer shares copies well before class time. I’ve tried partners, groups of three, groups of four; I’ve modeled best practices, played instructional videos, and assigned plenty of follow-up reflection and evaluation.  A couple of times, in desperation, I even resorted to the ubiquitous “checklist”—a form readers fill out for the writer.

Despite trying it every which way, I still heard from students who were disappointed by the feedback they received from readers, and I still saw drafts that remained unchanged from previous versions. I kept wondering if all of the class time devoted to peer review was paying off for writers—giving them the experience of multiple readers who felt confident enough to offer concrete suggestions or genuine reactions. I considered making it “count more” in the final grade, but doubted that I could evaluate the quality of peer review with consistency or fairness.

I realize that I’m telling a “technology-to-the-rescue” narrative, and I’m aware how problematic that might be, but I do want to share that I am finally feeling excited about peer review again!  By moving the peer review process outside of the classroom, to an online environment, students do not have the constraints of a 50-minute class meeting to respond thoughtfully to each other’s ideas.  While I still haven’t figured out how to facilitate online peer review on Sakai (and neither have my more tech-savvy colleagues), nearly every publisher in our field has a course management system with a peer review feature, including Bedford St. Martin’s CompClass, and often you can try those programs for one semester at little or no cost to your students. [read more]

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Categories: Classroom Challenges and Solutions, Peer Review
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Students as Resources

posted: 1.26.11 by Nedra Reynolds

In my last post I wrote about what bibliographies are for and how they can serve the needs of writing teachers.  Similarly, of course, textbooks, articles, Web sites, and an increasingly vast array of technologies provide resources, too, as well as blog conversations like these on Bits.

Colleagues, in particular, have long been an important resource for me. In addition to the informal contact (quick conversations in the hallway!), I’ve also participated in a Teaching Fellows program on my campus, which gives me a fix of teacher talk—something I miss from graduate school, where my friends and I, none of us veterans, spent hours talking about teaching. Now that I am a veteran, I still love sharing syllabi or assignments and comparing notes about students we have in common. But these days, rather than just talking about students with other teachers, I’m going straight to the source and am talking directly with students about teaching practices, ideas that I have, or what we should try next. I’ve come to trust students more than I used to; I am more likely to ask for their feedback or advice, to let them write the questions or preview the assignment or coach each other.  Generally, they have not let me down, and as another spring semester begins, I will continue to use students as a resource for my teaching, as much as they will let me.

On one level, it’s relatively easy or risk-free to listen to students or to ask for their input. I’ve long let students choose which of their written products will be graded or to vote on reading selections or to choose their own groups. But now I’m trying to put more faith in students’ desire to learn and their ability to be responsible participants in the teaching and learning relationship. I’m trying to be completely transparent, for one thing, by sharing why I’ve made certain choices or decisions in the syllabus or what skills a specific activity is targeting. [read more]

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Categories: Collaboration, Peer Review
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The Art of Revision

posted: 10.19.09 by archived

By Sage Cohen

One of the trickiest—and most liberating—aspects of poetry is that there is no Gold Standard against which we measure its worth. Without this standard, it can also be difficult to evaluate when a poem is finished. Because each poem is trying to accomplish something different, it is up to us to decide when the poem has arrived. This is not easy to do, even when one has been writing for decades, but it sure is satisfying to practice!

The important thing to remember about revision is that it is a process by which we become better acquainted with the poem and push it farther toward its own potential. In the revision stage, we revisit and may reinvent the choices we’ve already made with language, image, voice, music, line, rhythm, and rhyme.

The tricky balance involves wildly experimenting with what might be possible in a poem—beyond what we first laid down on the page—without losing the integrity of idea or emotion that brought us to the poem in the first place. This is a skill that develops over time, through experience and largely by feel. If it seems like you’re groping around in the dark when revising, welcome to the club!

The process of revising poems is unique for each poet; often, each poem has its own, unprecedented trajectory. I’ve had a few “whole cloth” poems arrive nearly perfectly complete in one contiguous swoosh of pen to paper. And I have other poems that have taken me more than fifteen years to finish. More typically, I work on a poem for a few weeks or months. Sometimes, I think a poem is finished, but years later, it proves me wrong, demanding a new final verse or line structure or title.

For the purposes of establishing a revising practice, I recommend that you divide writing and editing into two completely separate acts that happen at two different sittings, preferably on different days. The goal of this checks-and-balances system is to give yourself the space to let it rip when you’re writing without fearing interference from your inner editor. Don’t worry: If it’s bad now, it will still be bad next week; you can fix it then.

Once you feel you’ve exhausted every last drop of poetic possibility in the writing of the first draft, or any time you get stuck and don’t know where to go next, put your poem aside for a while. The next time you return to it, you’ll be wearing your editor hat.

In my experience, time is the greatest of editors. The longer a poem sits untouched, the more likely you are to have a sense of how to proceed when you sit down to revise.


Don’t know where to start with your revisions? Try asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is most alive in your poem? Underline the line(s), word(s), phrase(s), stanza(s) that seem to be the kindling feeding the fire of this poem so you can easily reference what’s working throughout the revision process.
  • Is there introductory information at the beginning or summary information at the end that could be trimmed?
  • Who is speaking? What would the poem be like if told from a different perspective? (For example, if a poem is about an experience shared by a mother and daughter, and told from the daughter’s point of view, try telling it from the mother’s point of view.)
  • Where is language weak and flabby? How can you give it more energy and muscle? Can passive verbs become active? Can modifiers be cut? Should “dropped” be changed to “plummeted”?
  • Verb tense: What would your poem be like in a different tense than it was written? Even if it happened in the past, try the present, and vice versa. See what gives it the most power and energy.
  • Does the shape of the poem (line length, stanza breaks, white space) mirror the emotion and rhythm of its content? Should it?
  • Are punctuation and capitalization consistent?
  • Is there good music of repeating sounds throughout the poem?
  • Does each line break create the desired interest, pause, movement, and focus on key moments or words?
  • Does the title serve the poem? How can the title take the poem further?

Remember that only you know the best way to craft your poem. Have fun, be willing to experiment, and you’ll learn a little more about revision each time you try.


Sage Cohen

Sage Cohen

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry (Writers Digest Books, 2009) and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. An award-winning poet, she writes three monthly columns about the craft and business of writing, publishes the Writing the Life Poetic Zine and serves as Poetry Editor for VoiceCatcher 4. Sage has won first prize in the Ghost Road Press poetry contest and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She curates a monthly reading series at Barnes & Noble and teaches the online class Poetry for the People. To learn more, visit Join the conversation about living and writing a poetic life at!

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Creative Writing, Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature, Peer Review, Teaching Advice, Writing Process
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100 Sticky Notes, or The Simple Way to Move from Observations to Composing

posted: 9.30.09 by Traci Gardner

I have a new challenge for the next class of students I teach:

Buy one package of sticky notes. Any brand will do, but be sure that they are about 3″ square. There should be about 100 notes in the pad. They don’t need to be a name brand. Check the dollar store for cheap ones.

As you read texts for class this term, write your comments or questions on the sticky notes, along with the related page number, and add them to the book. During the term, I want you to use the entire pad of sticky notes.

Sound like busy work? It’s anything but. Take a look at “Added Bonus—Writing a Reader’s Response Journal Entry” from the Scholastic Classroom Solutions blog. I know. It’s an entry from a 3–5 teacher. Stay with me. Take a look at what she’s having students do.

Students write their reader response reflections and analysis on sticky notes and then adhere them to the page that the comment applies to. The journal questions that Victoria Jasztal, the teacher-blogger, uses could work with students at any level, with some slight changes to make the task age-appropriate, or you could use your own journal questions with this technique. Later, Jasztal shares a journal entry that a student might write after writing their sticky notes.

My hunch is that you’re asking why go through all this trouble. If students bought their own books, couldn’t they just underline and make comments in the margin? Sure, they could. But there are some real benefits that I’d like to point out for using sticky notes.

Perhaps the most obvious argument for the technique is that there are times when students can’t or don’t want to write in the books that they are using. The student might have a book from the library for a research project. Perhaps the student has borrowed a book from a roommate. Maybe the student just doesn’t like the idea of writing in books. Sticky notes seem like the perfect solution for all these situations. That’s only the beginning of why this is a great technique for the writing classroom, though.

The size of the sticky notes encourages students to focus on concise, concentrated comments. I suggest either the 3″ square notes or, at most, the 3″ by 5″ rectangular notes. Anything other than the little flags will probably work though. On a 3″ square note, most students can write at least one full sentence. The notes are for their own use, so abbreviations and shortcuts are fine. As long as they can read their notes later, spelling and mechanics don’t really matter. Compare the short comments to the kind of concentrated comments people post on Twitter and in Facebook status updates. The kind of commentary should be familiar to most students. The goal is to ask them to apply that kind of writing to the texts that they are reading in class.

Once students begin using the technique, the sticky notes can improve class discussion. Ask students to point to a passage that stood out in a reading and you often get blank stares. Who remembers that the third paragraph on page 345 was confusing? Underlined text and margin notes might help, but sticky notes poking from the edges of the book make this task easy. The same things works in reverse, of course. If you point the class to a specific passage, you can ask who has a note on the page. Depending upon your classroom set-up, you may even be able to see whose books have notes on the page.

When it comes time for students to compose, the sticky notes can help writers point to supporting details. First, have students make sure that their sticky notes include the page number they relate to, so that they can return to the passages later. You might even urge them to be more specific by pointing to a paragraph number or sentence (e.g., sentence 2 in the second paragraph). Next, have students pull all notes out of the book and arrange them based on similarities. Depending upon the project, there could be piles based on different kinds of imagery, different characters in a story, different rhetorical techniques, and so forth. After notes are sorted, students can choose a topic based on the pile that is most interesting and that gives them enough support for their argument. Students can then place the notes on notebook paper and use them as a jot outline for the evidence to include in their paper. Remind students that they don’t need to use every sticky note, only those that relate to the paper topics they choose.

After writing a paper, students can use the sticky-note technique for peer review comments. Have students write their questions and comments on sticky notes and adhere them to the peer drafts. Since they are writing for other readers, remind them to avoid any unfamiliar abbreviations or shorthand. The sticky notes will give reviewers plenty of space to make their comments without marking up the original document. They can also be removed so that a second reader can comment on the same draft without seeing what other readers have said. Perhaps most importantly, the process applies the same critical thinking process to peer drafts that students apply to the every other text in class.

The technique can take students from first observations all the way to composing the final draft. It’s definitely not busy work. It encourages students to make critical connections to their readings, and, by nature of sticking their comments down, students are literally forced to connect their thoughts to specific passages in the texts. Once they understand this technique, students can easily use it in any class or subject area (as well as in the workplace). And my hunch is that when they use up that first pad of 100 sticky notes, they’ll get another pad.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Citing Sources, Discussion, Drafting, Peer Review, Planning
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Visual Peer Review

posted: 3.28.08 by Barclay Barrios

Bring in a pile of different-colored highlighters for peer review.  You can have students use these to visually identify elements of a draft.  For example, students might highlight summary in one color and analysis in another or they might highlight the quotations.  With this strategy students can see at a glance what they’re doing in their drafts.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Document Design, Peer Review, Revising
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Peer Revision at Home

posted: 3.13.08 by Barclay Barrios

For first-year students in particular, you might find it effective to have them review at least one peer’s paper at home.  Students still in transition from high school are used to thinking of class work as “busy work” and homework as “important work.”  I combine these two by having them review one or two papers in class but also one at home, emailing comments to the paper’s author.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Peer Review, Student Success
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Three Hour Peer Revision–Help?

posted: 6.20.07 by Barclay Barrios

OK, so the grad students will have rough drafts of their final papers this evening. We’ll work together to come with a rubric for grading them and then they’ll do peer revision. But the class is three hours long so I’m trying to think of some more (useful) activities I can do around peer revision to help them make the final push on their projects. If you had three hours for peer revision, what would you do? Any suggestions?

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Categories: Classroom Challenges and Solutions, Peer Review, Teaching Advice
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5 ways I help students to work with quotation

posted: 6.15.07 by Barclay Barrios

When I teach expository writing I tend to spend a lot of time helping students use quotations effectively to support their arguments. Too often, students just sprinkle quotations throughout their text without providing any sense of how those pieces of text relate to their larger argument. I have a few strategies I use to get them to engage the text closely in ways that support what they want to say:

1. The Super Secret Formula
This activity is designed to help students build a paragraph that works with two authors in support of the paper’s argument. This exercise has to be one of the most successful activities I’ve ever created. Not only is it the one that seems to help students the most but it’s also the one that other teachers seem to bring into their classrooms the most often. The Super Secret Formula is:

Cl > I > Q1 > E > T > Q2 > Ce

Students start their paragraphs with “Cl,” a sentence that states the claim of the paragraph. Then, with “I,” they introduced a quotation from the first author, adding a sentenced that explains it (“E”). The next sentence makes a transition (“T”) to a quotation from a different author, “Q2.” Finally, students take a sentence or two to explain the connection between the two quotations (“Ce”) and how it supports the argument they’re making in the paper.

The concrete structure of a “formula” provides a good scaffolding for students to build a solid paragraph that works with quotation but the risk is, of course, that all their paragraphs will becomes (literally) formulaic. When I use this exercise in the classroom, I start by having groups use the formula to make a sample paragraph. Then I challenge groups to come up with other formulas for working with quotation.

2. Close Reading
Sometimes students have difficulty analyzing a quotation; pieces of text will be sprinkled through a paper seemingly with the assumption that their relationship to the argument is self-evident. Here’s an exercise that can help students with this problem. Ask students to write or type a quotation they want to work with. Then ask them to underline the key sentences or phrases of the quotation, the parts that they feel are most important for the point they’re trying to make. Then have them construct sentences that use these pieces of the quotation and that explain how they relate to their arguments.

3. Facts and Ideas
Quotations that only contain statements of fact provide little opportunity for analysis; quotations with ideas do. Bring in examples of each kind to class for discussion and then during peer review ask students to identify each quotation in the papers they’re reading as either fact or idea. This exercise will give them practice distinguishing between the two and will provide useful feedback for paper authors on what type of quotation they’re favoring.

4. Short and Long
Another problem students seem to have in working with quotation is choosing quotations of appropriate length: they might choose quotations that are too short and thus don’t provide enough support or they might choose very long quotations and then say little about them. Have students look through their drafts and determine the length of each quotation by noting how many typed lines it takes. They can use the resulting report to reflect on their tendencies with quotation: do they always use very short ones? Always use very long ones? After the exercise challenge students to use a variety of lengths in their papers.

5. Peer Review Boost
During peer review, ask students to suggest at least three quotations that could be added to support the paper. This exercise will encourage paper authors to use more quotation while helping peer editors to dig deeper into the text to locate quotations that can help the paper authors.

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Categories: Citing Sources, Integrating sources, Peer Review
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posted: 2.5.07 by Barclay Barrios

Review sections of the handbook on verbs. Have students come in with one or two key paragraphs from their current drafts in which they have replaced the verbs with blanks (“______”). For peer revision, have peers fill in verbs and then reflect on which verbs they chose and why.

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Categories: Grammar & Style, Peer Review
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