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How to Respond to your Classmates' Work
Over time, precisely articulating your response to a text enables you to apply such criticism to your own work. In responding to your peers’ work, please be thoughtful, civil, and constructive.

1) Read the essay twice; the first time you read through a paper, try to hold off on writing comments.Instead, take the time to read the paper in its entirety. If you need to take some notes, do so on another piece of paper. This will prevent you from making over-hasty judgments, such as faulting the writer for omitting evidence that actually appears later in the paper. (In such cases, it may be appropriate to tell the writer that, as reader, you were expecting this information earlier—and the reason why.) While you may expect this strategy to take more time, it can actually save you time by allowing you to focus your feedback on the most important strengths and weaknesses you want to bring to the writers' attention.

2) Respond as a reader, not as a writer. Offer comments grounded in your reactions to the text. These comments should include margin remarks noting how you react as you read—what passages engage or confuse you, where you suggest revisions for consistency and clarity. Do not tell the writer how YOU would write the paper. Instead, tell him or her how you are responding to each part of the paper as you read it, pointing out gaps in logic or support and noting confusing language where it occurs. For example, if a sentence jumps abruptly to a new topic, do not rewrite the sentence to provide a clear transition or tell the writer how to rewrite it. Instead, simply write a note in the margin to indicate the problem.

3) Be specific. Be specific in your praise and criticism, and ground both in detail. If something works, take apart the mechanics of why. Comments in the margin such as "confusing," or "good" do not help writers improve their writing. Take the time to write longer, more specific comments; analyze precisely how your response as a reader is generated by the sequences of words on the page. For example, instead of writing “confusing” in the margins, you might note that you had to read the passage twice in order to understand its meaning.

4) Provide End Comments. At the bottom of the last page of the essay, write a developed comment of a paragraph or more discussing what you believe the work to be about, how you see it achieving this, how you see it straining, and what opportunities you see for exploration. Be sympathetic, but critical, and always specific: offer the honest, engaged reaction you’d want yourself.

Adapted in part from Axelrod and Cooper’s St. Martin’s Guide to Writing, short 9th ed., Michelle Trim’s What Every Student Should Know About Practicing Peer Review, Questions for peer Editing: The Profile Paper by Robin Becker, and Queen’s University’s Critique Writing Handbook.