Encouraging Peer Editing

Introduction

Peer editing is a technique often used in composition and other writing-intensive courses. Students engaged in peer editing trade drafts of material they have written and provide each other with suggestions for improvement. This technique can be used at any point in the writing process--idea formation, outlining, draft revision, or copy editing a final draft.

Platforms for Peer Editing

Often, the easiest and most successful tools for peer editing are the reliable paper and pen. In this case, instructors require students to bring in copies of a draft, distribute these copies for marking up, and have editors sign and return them to the author right away.

However, papers have a way of getting lost sometimes, especially lowly rough drafts full of errors variously caught by peers. Web-based collaborative writing tools might work better for some peer editing situations. Discussion boards, for example, can be used to manage document editing over a semester. A discussion board allows editors to download, appraise, and then repost a paper along with comments. The edited paper is thus 'handed back' to its author, and is also available to the whole class.

Wikis can improve the granularity of the editing process. Wikis provide version tracking that makes it easy to track (and roll back, when desirable) individual editorial changes. Wiki editing environments might prompt students to focus on smaller, more local, and possibly more trivial corrections, but most wikis provide a commenting function that can be used by students for big-picture assessment.

Peer Editing - Pros(e) and Cons

Peer editing has many benefits, including the following:

  • Students can gain confidence in their work by having others read it and provide commentary prior to turning it in to the instructor.
  • Editing work by peers can help students identify problems in their own writing; they can see firsthand what it is like to assess a writing critically, rather than just relying on the instructor to find all the mistakes.
  • Peer editing gives students a chance to write for a broader audience than their instructor, which can encourage better planning about providing context for the topic at hand.
  • Student writing generated with peers in mind stands a better chance of being livelier and more engaging than papers written solely for a removed authority figure. Peer editing erodes a pernicious distinction that students sometimes make between scholarly writing and direct communication.
  • When students act as teachers it raises everyone's expectations and forces each student to act expertly. Asking students to teach is a great teaching tool.

Peer editing also has some pitfalls:

  • Students will often focus on grammatical improvements and other relatively trivial emendations unless explicitly directed to focus on other aspects of the writing process. This is also an opportunity to point out the difference between "peer editing" and "copy editing."
  • Students may be too polite to offer constructive criticism to each other. Conversely, students can occasionally go into "attack dog" mode, in a misguided attempt to impress the instructor. A balanced approached to productive criticism should be defined at the outset of a peer editing exercise.
  • Relatedly, an online peer editing environment in which documents are visible to the whole class (rather than just author and editor) may spur an overly deferential or combative tone. Showcasing instances of judicious and helpful editing to the class can help ward off such performances.
  • Students will sometimes identify with ideas that the author is posing rather than comment on the clarity of the argument. This is also an opportunity to point out the difference between "peer editing" and "content editing."
  • Occasionally a peer will suggest a correction that, when followed, actually weakens a paper. A healthy approach to suggestions made by peer editors (not defensive, not blindly accepting) is important to establish from the outset.

Tips for Peer Editing Exercises

  • Consider blocking off time for in-class peer editing. Though this can crowd an already full class schedule, the group experience of editing will often bring seriousness and concentration to the activity. It also allows you, as the instructor, to put good habits in place for when the students take the exercise outside of the classroom.
  • Provide students with a model of editing, or at least a set of codes to use in the process. This will allow you to steer attention away from trivial matters towards more significant, critical engagement. If necessary, you might consider an in-class role-playing exercise.
  • Ask students to retain their peer-edited draft and turn it in along with their final draft. This way you can appraise the skill with which they appraised and incorporated peer suggestions, and identify strong editors in your class.
  • Additionally, you can ask students to submit a short "editorial notes" addendum to their final draft. This document could incorporate high points from the peer editing process and critique the feedback that they received.
  • Consider distributing peer editing assignments at random. This will help mix up class dynamics. If the class does several peer editing sessions, make sure that different writers and editors are paired each time.