Peer review instructions

The following guidelines are intended to be used as a starting point for peer-group discussions of texts. Most of the exercises can also be used on your own text if you are working alone.

Please note that:

  • Student peer reviewers are usually not expected to correct mistakes, but rather to identify passages that need revision and to discuss with the writer what kind(s) of problem they have identified.
  • If you have been asked to peer review another student's text as part of course work, check the instructions that you have received, as there may be other aspects that need to be taken into consideration than the ones listed below.
  • When you review a text, also check any instructions the writer has received. For information about how to work with instructions and style sheets, see

Important: Stay focused and keep a professional tone in all peer reviewing. This means avoiding derogatory remarks and irony, as well as praise that does not help the writer. In all comments you give,

  • be specific, for instance by giving examples
  • pose questions when the text is unclear rather than just stating that it is unclear
  • aim to help the writer but do not try to write the paper for them

How to conduct a peer review

In order to get an overview of the text you have been asked to review, read it through, marking only things that stand out and that you will take a closer look at later on. Then go through the text more carefully, focusing on the issues listed below.

    • Is there a clear focus in the text? If not, mark passages that seem irrelevant to the topic and passages that need to be clarified.
    • For an essay to be focused, it usually needs to have a clearly identified research question. If you cannot identify what the essay sets out to investigate/discuss, comment on this.
    • Focused essays also present an argument. If there is no thesis statement (claim), ask the writer what point they wish to make in their text.

    For further information about the terms research question and thesis statement, see this video:

    • Does the overall structure of the text work? If not, what changes would you suggest?
    • Are the paragraphs well structured (are there topic sentences, for instance)? If paragraph structure is a recurring problem in the text, comment on one or two paragraphs in detail to help the writer revise his or her text.

    For further information about topic sentences and paragrpah structure, see

    • Is the argument clearly stated?  If not, does the writer need to provide more information and how can their argument be further developed? If you find the argument weak or lacking, mark this in the text, for instance by posing questions to the writer, such as
      • Why is this important?
      • How is this related to your argument?
      • Could you give any examples of this?
      • Could you clarify this?

    For some ideas on how to think about arguments in essays, see this video:

    Although it is usually not the peer reviewer's task to mark or correct language errors in the text, the following can help you as you review your peers' texts.

    • Consider the vocabulary used in the text:
      • Are any words overused or 'flat' in the sense that they do not add anything to the argument?
      • If the writer is prone to repetitiveness, mark words that recur frequently
      • Mark informal language
    • Mark spelling mistakes or grammatical mistakes that you notice while reading the text, especially if they make the text unclear:
      • What about punctuation?
      • Are there any run-on sentences or sentence fragments?

    If the text draws on previous research, comment on the following:

    • Are the sources that have been used relevant for the topic and for the assignment?
    • Does the writer make a clear distinction between previous research and what is new (this is, can you distinguish the writer's ideas from what the writer has based on previous research?)
    • Have sources been referred to according to instructions that the writer has received?

    For information on how to use sources and why, see

    To help the writer of the text you have reviewed, try to sum up your comments in a few sentences. Focus on the following:

    • What are the strengths of the text you have read?
    • What aspects of the writer's text need more work?

    In the online book Writing in English at University: A Guide for Second Language Writers, pp. 27-29, you will find some further instructions and some tips on how to present your feedback.

    Peer-reviewing guides for specific stages of the writing process

    The following advice can be used as a starting point for reviews of work-in-progress texts. 

    Remember that texts look different in different academic fields. The guidelines below focus on general stages of writing that many students come across while working on essays and degree projects.

    Preliminary title    

    • Is the preliminary essay title informative?
    • Is the title clear or potentially ambiguous (if the latter, discuss whether this is a good thing or not)

    Research question and thesis statement

    Note that the thesis statement will be preliminary at this early stage of the writing process.

    Outline of essay structure    

    • Discuss the proposed structure
    • Does the proposed structure seem to be the best structure for the project, or would you like to propose another structure?

    Preliminary sources    

    • What kinds of sources has the writer located at this stage?
    • Are there any kinds of sources that you would have expected, but that have not been listed?

    Summing up and self-reflection

    • Highlight something in the essay/project proposal that is good and something that may need to be clarified/developed.
    • What have you learned by reading other students' essay/project proposals, and in what way has your own project developed from your discussions?

    Consider the questions below as your review your peers' texts.

    Contents and structure

    • Does the introduction present the topic of the essay/project in a clear way?
    • Is there an identifiable research question and a thesis statement?
    • Does the introduction offer an outline of the essay (a blueprint)?
    • Do you lack any crucial information in the introduction?

    If the writer has been instructed to base their introduction on the CARS model, consider the following as well:

    Readability

    • How well does the introduction read?

    Language

    • Comment on the vocabulary used:
      • Are there any words that are overused or ‘flat’ in the sense that they do not add anything to the argument?
      • Are there terms that need to be introduced?
    • What about punctuation?
    • Are there any sentences that need to be rephrased - any comma splices (run-on sentences) or sentence fragments?

    Summing up and self-reflection

    • Highlight something in the introduction that is good and something that may need to be clarified/developed.
    • What have you learned and in what way has your own project developed from peer reviewing Introductions?

    For information about paragraph writing, see

    Revise paragraphs for structure and argument

    The following exercise works well as a peer-review exercise of some part of a text, and you can also use it to check your own work-in-progress texts.

    • Read through the paragraph. Does it contain a clear topic sentence and some development in the form of supporting sentences? If not, how can the paragraph structure be strengthened?
    • If any sources have been used, is it clear to the reader what parts of the paragraph refer to the source(s) and what parts are the writer’s own thoughts and words? If needed, how can the writer’s voice be strengthened and how can the reference(s) to other people’s thoughts be made more clear?

    Revise a paragraph at sentence level

    Read through the paragraph and then consider it from the following perspectives:

    • Sentence flow: Ask someone else to read your paragraph out loud to you and pay attention to any sentences that the reader struggles with. Underline such passages and consider the reason:
      • Is the sentence structure awkward?
      • Are you trying to say too much in one sentence?
      • Are the sentences in your paragraph not in a logical order?
    • Sentence structure variety: Are any successive sentences structured in exactly the same way (for instance are there several sentences in a row starting with subject + verb or with a prepositional phrase)? If that is the case, try to see if you can rephrase in order to create variety.
    • Choice of words: Are there any words in the paragraph that might need revision (meaning / phrasing / form)? Is there unnecessary repetition?
    • Style and language: Are there any language errors (subject-verb agreement, spelling, genitive case, capitalization, unclear use of pronouns)? What about style (contracted forms, informal words/phrases, jargon/pompous language)?

    Peer reviewing is useful throughout the writing process. Use the following questions as starting points for peer discussions of work in progress. Remember that the texts you read are not finished texts; your task as a peer reviewer is to help the writer sharpen her or his argument and improve her or his text. Importantly, by reviewing other writers’ texts, you will train your own analytical abilities and you will encounter different ways of structuring a paper, of presenting facts and arguments, etc.

    The following starting points are not detailed instructions but a list of issues that are important to consider throughout the writing process.

    Big-picture concerns

    • Argument: Is the argument clearly stated or does the writer need to provide more information or develop his/her argument in some direction?
    • Structure: Look at different text levels, such as
      • Overall level (is the overall structure clear to you as a reader?)
      • Section level (do the sections follow in a logical sequence and are there informative headings and transitions between sections?)
      • Paragraph level (what about topic sentences, for instance?)
    • Evidence: Does the writer back up their claims?
    • Use of sources and referencing:
      • Will the writer need to find more evidence / sources to substantiate their claims?
      • How are sources used?
      • Does the writer follow the stipulated reference style?

    Local concerns

    • Transitions:
      • Does the writer use effective transitions between paragraphs or does the text consist of separate chunks of text? If the latter, highlight gaps where transitional devices are needed.
    • Language – read the text with the following issues in mind:
      • Word choice (any terms than need to be explained or defined / any jargon or unnecessary words?)
      • Spelling mistakes / grammatical mistakes?
      • Punctuation issues?
      • Are there any run-on sentences or sentence fragments?

    Summing up and self-reflection

    • What is the greatest strength of the draft you have read?
    • What does the writer need to work on?
    • What have you learned and in what way has your own project developed from peer reviewing?
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