1. Assume that specific, well-reasoned peer critique comes through regular practice.  Students are generally quite good at particular kinds of response:

    • Finding an interesting point
    • Isolating a confusing phrase or argument
    • Identifying where they would like to know more about a topic
    • Pointing out where an argument is based upon opinion rather than fact or logic
    • Offering opposing points of view
    • Determining whether an individual paragraph has a single focus
    • Detecting missing transitions between paragraphs
    • Re-reading the introduction of a paper to determine its appropriateness in terms of overall focus

    But they may not be as comfortable responding to more complex rhetorical issues in their own or others' writing.  For example,

    • Responding to grammatical concerns
    • Setting aside their own opinions on a controversial topic
    • Understanding the role of quotations or examples in a paragraph
    • Seeing the overall structure of a paper or argument
    • Critiquing a writers' ethos or tone of voice
    • Pointing out the audience or purpose for a text
    • Suggesting where a paper should go next in a revision

    Model for students the kind of feedback you think will be most helpful for writers as they do a particular assignment.  Walk them through your responses to a model paper, or give them specific questions that will prompt attention to the rhetorical issues you think are most important.

  2. Teach students to prioritize "higher-order" concerns over"lower-order" concerns (or "global" over "local"issues).  As they write, experienced writers seem able to consider both the "big picture" elements such as focus,audience and purpose, organization, and argument and the more localized issues of sentence structure and grammar, and to move fluidly between these elements as they revise.  For college writers that kind of cognitive balancing is often harder to maintain.

    Students should learn the differences between "higher-order" and "lower-order" concerns in writing.  Encourage them to attend to the most important, higher-order issues first, when they're still figuring out what they want to say and why.  Drawn from Purdue University's OWL website,here are some questions to consider

Higher-Order Concerns:

  • Thesis or focus.  Does the paper have a central thesis or argument?
  • Can you offer a one-sentence explanation or summary of what the paper is about?
  • Ask someone to read the first paragraph or two and tell you what he or she thinks the paper will discuss.
  • Audience and Purpose.  Do you have an appropriate audience in mind? Can you describe them?
  • What is the paper intended to do or accomplish?
  • Why would someone want to read this paper?  What would he or she learn, or be persuaded to do or believe?
  • Does the purpose match the assignment?
  • Organization.  Does the paper progress in an organized, logical way?
  • Go through the paper and jot down notes on the topics of the various paragraphs. Look at this list and see if you can think of a better organization.
  • Make a brief outline. Does the organization make sense? Should any part be moved to another part?
  • Ask someone to read the paper. At the end of each paragraph, ask the person to forecast where the paper is headed. If the paper goes in a direction other than the one forecasted by the reader, is there a good reason,or do you need to rewrite something there?
  • Development.  Are there places in the paper where more details, examples, or specifics are needed?
  • Do any paragraphs seem much shorter and in need of more material than others?
  • Ask someone to read the paper and comment if something is unclear and needs more description, explanation, or support.

Lower-Order Concerns:

  • Does this draft have some recurring patterns of error? Keep a list of problems that recur and check for those.Read the paper aloud watching and listening for anything that sounds incorrect.
  • Ask yourself why you put punctuation marks in certain places. Do you need to check any punctuation rules?
  • For possible spelling errors, proofread backwards, from the end of a line to the beginning.