What is peer review?
Peer review is a common activity at university, both among students and among senior researchers. In many undergraduate courses, peer reviewing forms part of the learning process, and papers and chapters by PhD students are scrutinised in departmental research seminars. Although writers might feel intimidated by the idea of submitting their (unfinished) texts to other people, texts usually improve as a result of being questioned and commented on. The task of the peer reviewer is to help the writer sharpen his or her argument and improve his or her texts. Importantly, by reviewing other writers’ texts, peer reviewers also train their own analytical abilities.
Although the principle is the same, peer review among students looks slightly different from the peer-review process carried out before scholarly texts are published in journals, for instance.
Student peer review
Students are often asked to peer review other students' writing. Here, the word peer means another student, usually in the same course, who can be expected to have a similar level of understanding of the general topic dealt with in the text (although the writer will probably have more expert knowledge of the particular aspect dealt with in their text).
Scholarly peer review
When an author has submitted a text to a journal, it will be reviewed by other scholars within the field. Depending on the assessment and comments provided by the peer reviewers, the manuscript will then be either accepted or rejected by the publisher / editor. Articles that are accepted for publication usually have to go through minor or major revisions before being published.
Peer reviewers of scholarly work receive instructions from the publisher outlining what to comment on and how to assess the text. Such instructions usually cover both general aspects of research and presentation and more detailed, journal-specific, preferences.
Reading someone else's text: Student peer reviewing
Student peers reviewing during the writing process can take different forms. In some courses, students work in peer groups and review each other's work-in-progress, for instance, and papers and chapters by PhD students are often scrutinised in departmental research seminars or read and commented upon by assigned readers. Although writers might feel intimidated by the idea of submitting their (unfinished) texts to someone else, texts usually improve as a result of being questioned and commented on.
The task of peer reviewers is to help writers sharpen their arguments and improve their texts. By reviewing other writers’ texts, peer reviewers thereby also train their own analytical abilities. Encountering different ways of structuring a paper, or of presenting facts and arguments, gives the peer reviewer an increased understanding of writing.
The video below presents some fundamental aspects of peer review work at university:
Instructional video from the free online MOOC "Writing in English at University" which was developed at Lund University in 2016.
AWELU peer review guidelines for students
Note that our guidelines are of a general kind and that your teachers may have set instructions covering other aspects:
When you receive feedback from your peers, it is important that you make use of it in a way that helps you develop your text. See here for some advice: