Peer review to improve essay writing for first years in School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics

Dr Kirsten MacLeod, Lecturer

School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics

Humanities and Social Sciences

What did you do?

Introduced compulsory Peer Review for First Year students.

Who is involved?

Dr Stacy Gillis, Dr Ruth Connolly and Dr Kirsten MacLeod introduced a peer review component for first term survey modules. Seminar tutors divide all of the students in their group into pairs, balancing each students’ strengths and weaknesses to ensure that each individual can learn something from their partner.

How do you do it?

Students are divided into pairs in Week 10 of each term, in time for their final essay of the course, and are asked to swap a short draft of their essays or essay plans. Each partner then fills out a pro forma, detailing three strengths and three weaknesses of the piece of work. They then write a short summary of up to 500 words. This form is emailed back to their partner, copying in the seminar tutor so that s/he can ensure that all students have taken part.

Why do you do it?

First-year is a crucial time for building essay-writing skills and the ability to proofread and edit effectively is a crucial element of this. Many students are more able to see a range of errors in the work of their peers than in their own essays, with which they are often too familiar. This encourages them to recognise why certain practices are successful or unsuccessful by experiencing UG essay writing from the perspective of a reader/marker rather than a writer, allowing them to improve their own writing whilst supporting and aiding their peers. This is useful in nurturing the sort of collegiate learning environment which the University is interested in promoting as well as encouraging students to use peer editing throughout their University careers, working together to help themselves and their peers to fulfil their academic potential.

Does it work?

Students find Peer Review incredibly useful, not only in terms of seeing where their work stands with relation to other students but also in helping them to reflect on their own essay-writing skills. This allows them to share good practice, to learn new techniques and to become better at editing and proof-reading their own work. The success of this with our first years is such that many form proof-reading partnerships which last well into third year and it is not unusual to find students who worked well as peer-reviewers acting as editors or readers for each other’s dissertations.

There have been fears of this leading to collusion but this seems rarely to happen with peer-review teams as seminar tutors have a good record of who has worked with who. It becomes even more unlikely as students move through their second and third years as their interests diversify. The breadth of curriculum in English seems to add to this and by Third Year it is not unusual for a student writing on Shakespeare to be proof-reading for another student studying Angela Carter and vice versa. This allows them to concentrate on help and advice on structural and grammatical issues rather than those of content and helps them to mirror the sort of intellectual generosity and supportive practices which inform the work of academic staff themselves, adding to a collaborative and supportive research environment.

Contact Details

Dr Kirsten Macleod, Lecturer, 


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