In every English class I’ve ever taken, we’ve been required to do peer reviews. In most of my classes, nobody actually wanted to read through three different people’s essays and offer suggestions for improvement, mostly because they were afraid of offending or honestly didn’t know how to improve the writing. I’ve been to countless classes where we did peer reviews that resulted in comments like, “Your essay was so good, I might just consider a title change!” with no new suggested title, or thoughts on where I might go with it.
These types of reviews were always a disappointment and made me feel like I was wasting my time. My English professor freshman year, though, had a different take on things. She said that peer review wasn’t necessarily so that you could improve your paper based on what your peers suggested, but so that you could look at others’ writing and find where their strengths and weaknesses were and apply your own thoughts to your own paper. Many times, she said, she never even looked at comments made by her peers when she was in graduate school, but applied her own critiques to her work.
Either way, I always feel like I fail at reviewing other people’s work. I can offer so many comments of “I like what you did here, that was very clever,” and “That title is so catchy.” What I’m bad at is pointing out room for improvement. I don’t think I’m afraid of offending someone; it just seems to me that every suggestion I make would be a total style call, and mine would be different from the author’s. This way, I don’t benefit from reading my peers’ work, and they don’t get much out of it either.
So far, this gateway course has provided much more insightful reviews, since everyone in the class wants to write. I always get such great feedback from all of my classmates, but I almost never know what to say when it’s my turn to reciprocate. I think I’m too easy to please when it comes to writing, as I’ve always enjoyed reading things. I’m great at sentence-level editing and correcting grammar, but these things are trivial when it comes to reviewing the roughest of drafts.
I guess I need some help on my reviewing skills. I know I’m supposed to ask the big questions: what was the main argument? Was the essay/poem/story effective at getting the point across? Does the tone sound appropriate? These questions should serve as a guide, but it always seems to be the same thing: “Yeah, I totally got the argument, and I love that you used this form to make it. I wasn’t really confused at this part, I think that you’re being too hard on yourself with your comments.”
I think that part of this is because I’m afraid of offending, but mostly it’s because I think everyone is so much better of a writer than I am. I almost don’t feel qualified to comment on their writing because I’m not even close to their level. This is harsh criticism of myself, and I know it’s probably not warranted. But I guess it’s true that we are our own toughest critics, and I’m continually working to grow out of it.