How to Give Useful Peer Feedback -->

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How to Give Useful Peer Feedback

Throughout this article are 12 "tweetable takeaways." Click on a Twitter icon () to share one of Lydia's peer review tips. 

Giving and getting peer feedback on drafts can be an incredible tool for improving your writing, but only if that feedback is clear and specific about what to do next. Having someone say, “I liked it!” or “Well done!” can feel good for a moment, but it won’t help anyone improve.

You also don’t have to “know everything” to give helpful writing feedback; just be self-aware about your own reading experience. The whole point of feedback is to just show the author what a reader will see in a draft. 

women discuss over a laptop
Is peer review part of your writing process? 

General Strategies

Find out what the author wants, but keep in mind you may see things the author hasn’t considered yet, too. Peer review tweetable takeaway

Don’t give too much; don’t give too little. Sometimes it is not helpful to point out every error and make suggestions on every line—this can be overwhelming. Vague or incomplete feedback can be just as frustrating and can feel like a waste of time. Peer review tweetable takeaway

Follow the golden rule. Give the kind of feedback that you would like to get. That is, be respectful, constructive, thorough, and honest. Peer review tweetable takeaway

Trust yourself as a reader. If something is not clear to you, the author probably needs to make it clearer. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense because the author hasn’t made sense of it yet. Peer review tweetable takeaway

Content Critique versus Error Correction

You don’t need to be a grammar or APA expert to give worthwhile feedback. Address the big things first! For example, if you are reading over someone’s problem statement, it is probably more important that the author made sure you could understand the point than if he or she used a semicolon correctly. Focus on content and clarity before you focus on mechanical errors, like typos or missing punctuation. Proofreading concerns should come last unless they significantly interfere with a reader’s overall understanding. Peer review tweetable takeaway

Thinking of Things to Say

Keep track of questions that occur to you as you read. For example: How does this point relate to the one before? What does this term mean? Is there a missing word here? Peer review tweetable takeaway

Offer concrete suggestions whenever you can. For example: This paragraph might work better at the beginning. I was confused here—maybe a subheading would make the transition clearer. Peer review tweetable takeaway 

Examples of things to focus on in a content critique:
  • Organization (are things in a logical order?)
  • Consistency/contradiction (does the author say the same thing throughout or seem to change his or her mind?)
  • Focus (can you tell what the main ideas are, or is there a lot of extra information?)
  • General clarity (make note of passages that don’t seem to make sense to you, either because the wording is confusing, there is not enough explanation, or you can’t tell how the information fits in to the main idea)
  • Point out when authors do something well, too, and let them know why. For example: The obvious topic sentences really helped me follow your argument. The wording in this paragraph is clear and easy to understand. Explaining it this way is much better than in the earlier paragraph—now I know what you mean. 

Don’t Get Stuck

If you can’t find something positive to say about a draft, look at it from another perspective: The wording is dense and hard for you to understand, but maybe you can really tell how knowledgeable the author is about the topic. (When people have a lot to say, sometimes it just takes a few drafts to make sure they say everything in the right order.) Peer review tweetable takeaway

If you come across something you just don’t understand, tell the author this, but also say what you think it means—sometimes when an author hears a reader’s interpretation (or misinterpretation) of an idea, the author can more easily figure out what to fix. Peer review tweetable takeaway

If you can’t find anything to critique, focus on making sure the author knows why what he or she did worked. Don’t just say “This is awesome!” Be specific: “I could really tell how all the scholarly evidence fit together—the way you explained things and gave examples was really helpful.” Peer review tweetable takeaway

Interpreting Feedback for Your Own Work

Try not to take it personally—you are very close to your own writing and may think you have settled on the right way to do things. What makes sense in your head may not make sense in someone else’s.

Be grateful! Thoughtful feedback takes time and mental energy. If someone has a lot of suggestions, don’t think of it as “tearing your paper apart;” think of how many ways he or she is trying to make it better.

You don’t have to follow every suggestion, but keep an open mind. A fresh pair of eyes may catch something you missed.

Getting #writing feedback: Don't take it personally, be grateful, & stay open-minded. 
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Giving and getting peer review feedback is an excellent way to develop your skills as a writer. We encourage you to join a writing community and/or find a writing partner to make peer review a regular part of your writing process.

Practice: Find a draft of something you wrote a while ago. Pick something you haven’t written or read recently so that you have some distance from it. Take 10-15 minutes to read over and make comments on the draft, imagining you are giving feedback to a colleague on his or her work. What kinds of things do you notice? What suggestions for revision can you make?


Lydia Lunning is one of the editors in the Writing Center who conduct the final form and style review of all of Walden’s dissertations and doctoral studies. She was terrible at revising her own work until she joined a peer tutoring program in college.

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  1. Love the article. I always get so annoyed, when people simply say: "Well done!" or "I liked it", because when I ask someone to give me a feedback I am actually waiting for an advice. However, it does not concern everybody - many of my colleagues actually get offended if one tells them anything but: "You did a great job!".

    1. Thanks, Lily! Good point - writers certainly have their own preferences as to the type and amount of feedback they prefer. We agree, though, that the "nice job!" type of sentiments on their own are not very constructive.