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Peer Review of Papers

Assigning papers is obviously an important part of a good philosophy class, since students need to improve their writing skills and, of course, they will also learn much more about the topics in the class through the process of writing.  As a general rule students profit even more from writing assignments if the writing goes through multiple steps, and students not only write a paper but also rewrite their papers and incorporate feedback.  The problem, of course, is that it takes a great deal of time to read students papers, give the students feedback, and then reread the papers after they are rewritten.  


Peer reviewing of papers is a solution that promises to shorten the amount of instructor time and enrich student experience.  The idea is to to have students critique each other's papers and then rewrite their papers based on the feedback they received from the other students.  After all, learning to critique the writing of others is an important skill that students need to learn and, of course, seeing the problems in the writing of other students should help them improve their own writing. While this sounds wonderful in theory, the reality is that students are often reluctant to comment candidly on each other's work, and are often more afraid of offending others than they are interested in gaining the learning.  Is there a way to resolve this dilemma?  One answer is to provide students with very specific instructions about how to go about the process of reviewing another paper.  Instead of just finding a few typos and then complimenting the paper in a general way, the idea is to help the student look for and comment on specific issues in paper writing. If the process is sufficiently guided, the chances of success are much higher.


Here are a number of sources to help the process:


  • Professor Ramona Ilea of Pacific University has had a lot of success with the peer review process.  She has made available a set of tips and good practices, as well as handouts and worksheets that she uses in her own classes. These materials are extremely helpful.  Ilea also recommends a number of other websites.

  • Ilea also recommends the websites on peer review at Colorado State University and at the English Department of UC-Santa Barbara.


A related approach, also recommended by TΦ101 is to present the class with model papers, and have them review a set of model papers before they write their own papers. This approach gives the students a chance to read other papers, but does not, of course, give them direct feedback on their own papers.


Author: John Immerwahr
Update: May 16, 2010


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