Peer Review

An Effective Peer Review

Peer Review is simultaneously the most useful and the frustrating part of the writing process. It’s hard to overstate the need for proper feedback, no writer is perfect after all, but anyone that’s been in a writer’s workshop can tell you that too often feedback is vague and useless. Luckily, even some of the worst examples of peer review can be mined for constructive criticism with a little work and today we’ll be looking at a few simple techniques writers can use to make the most out of their peer review.

Things to look for in a Peer Review

The first thing a writer should look for during the peer review process is recurring complaints or criticisms. Any proper peer review should involve a number of reviewers and if they are all telling you the same thing, it is something you should keep in mind, no matter if it’s frustratingly vague or a pointless nitpick. For example, if you’re submitting the latest in your twelve-part space epic about the Great War of the Space Sorcerers and five people tell you they don’t understand why Hilgada, the Sorcerer Emperor’s daughter, killed her cyber elf companion then you should probably look into why it might be confusing, whether or not you made it absolutely clear that the cyber elf was a spy for the moon wolves. Recurring complaints will always point you towards the most obvious flaws in your work and they should always be carefully investigated and considered.

I really enjoyed your story. The duel between the Viscount of Mars and his parallel-world twin was pretty cool, but I thought the political stuff with the princess was kind of boring. Other people might like it though. Good work!

This will be the majority of the feedback you receive and many people will despair about how useless it might seem. After all, there’s nothing constructive or really specific to this statement; it’s just a bunch of vague positivity and subjective statements. And that’s all true to an extent, but there’s three things that you can pull from a statement like this: what’s interesting, what’s boring, and what’s memorable.

Why a Peer Review is important

These things are important because they let a writer know about the focus of the work, one of the most invisible pieces of a work to the writer. Writers often make assumptions about what is important, because they know what’s important. They know that the deal that the princess is making with the merchant’s guild is more important than her brother’s duel, but readers enter into a work without this knowledge and as a result they see it in a way the writer can’t. Feedback presents an opportunity to find out how the reader’s attention is shaped and adjust the story to compensate.

Proper Peer Review Feedback

But what if your feedback is devoid of even that? What if someone writes something completely devoid of meaning like “good job” or “nice work”, statements that don’t even have the benefit of letting you know if a person had a negative reaction to what you wrote? In that case, you should direct the person that gave you such useless feedback to join us next time, where we’ll be discussing the other side of the coin: how to give better feedback. Until then, stay safe and keep writing!

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