Please note: While this is a series of "pointings," questions, and suggestions for peer-evaluation, they are also - of course - useful for self-evaluation. Use these later to double- (and triple- and quadruple-) check your own essay!
In order to provide focused, helpful comments, your reader must know your intended purpose and audience. Briefly write out responses to the following questions at the top of your draft before giving it to your peer reviewer.
Audience. (1) To whom are you directing your essay? (2) What may you presume they already know about this issue? (3) Why may you presume this? (Again, actually spell this out, as it were, at the top of your draft.)
Purpose. (4) What effect/influence can you reasonably expect your essay to have on these particular readers?
Writer's Name/ID: _________________________________________________________
Evaluator's Name/ID: _____________________________________________________
Title of Essay: ____________________________________________________________
Read with a Critical Eye. As we already know, reading a draft critically means first establishing a "quick 'n' dirty" general impression before analyzing its basic features.
Also, be sure to read for a Genuine First Impression. Read the essay through quickly to get a sense of its argument.
Spend only three or four minutes dashing through the essay to get an overall understanding of what you are reading. Then reread for only another five to seven minutes, quickly making the following "pointings":
In your own words, describe what you perceive to be the thesis of this essay.
Circle what seems to be the author's version of her/his thesis (do not ask the writer - we're trying to see if the thesis is clear enough).
Now carefully read the essay again - paying special attention to analyze its content - then answer the following questions. Use the questions to get you thinking critically about the writing (NOT the writer) you are evaluating. DO NOT merely give "yes" or "no" responses; hope your reader is being at least as critical! (And if I learn you do not offer meaningful Peer Evaluation, we will "have words"; there will, regretfully, be disciplinary measures invoked.)
Begin by writing just a few brief sentences describing your initial reaction. Does the issue interest you? What is your personal view of it? What did you find most convincing in the essay? Least convincing?
Is the Issue Well-defined?
Check to see how the issue is defined. Is there enough information to understand the issue and why it is important? What questions still need to be answered? Determine whether the issue, as it is stated, is even arguable. For example, does it seem to be a question of fact or is it basically a matter of faith - and therefore not worth arguing about?
Is the Thesis VERY Clear?
Find the clearest statement of the thesis. Given the readers and purpose, is the thesis stated in appropriate terms? Is it qualified? (Should it be?) If the thesis is implied rather than stated, summarize it. Should it be stated directly?
Is the Argument Supported by Convincing Reasons and Evidence?
Find the reasons given to support the claim, and number them in the margin: Reason 1, Reason 2, and so on. Then consider each reason in turn, looking at how it is explained and supported. Indicate any reasons that need to be explained more clearly or supported more convincingly. Have any important reasons been left out or any weak ones overemphasized? Note any supporting evidence that seems weak as well as places where more evidence is needed.
Look for faulty reasoning. Note any sweeping generalizations (broad statements asserted without support). Indicate if the issue has been oversimplified or if either/or reasoning (unfairly limiting the argument to only two alternatives) is being used.
How Are Counterarguments Handled ?
Look for places where other positions on this issue are mentioned, and specifically places where objections are acknowledged and counterarguments entertained. Note any areas of potential agreement that could be emphasized and any concessions that need to be made. Check for any attempts to refute counterarguments, and see whether the refutation could be strengthened.
Again, look for faulty reasoning. Point out any personal attacks on opponents rather than on their reasoning. Have only the weakest counterarguments been acknowledged, thus misrepresenting the opposition? What other counterarguments could be made?
Is the Tone Reasonable?
Note places where the tone comes across as thoughtful, reasonable, moderate, believable, and trustworthy. Also indicate where the writing seems too emotional or out of proportion to what is being discussed. For example, does the writing ever seem bitter, sarcastic, or too lighthearted?
Is the Organization Effective?
Look at the beginning and ending to evaluate their effectiveness and, if necessary, suggest how they might be made stronger. In particular, note whether the beginning gives a preview of the argument or whether one is needed. Review the sequence in which the reasons and counterarguments are presented to see if they should be reordered. Check to see if any evidence is misplaced. Point to effective uses of transitions, summaries, and topic sentences and places where they could be added.
Introduction and Conclusion
How did the writer begin the piece? Was your attention engaged immediately and was it maintained till the end? (Now is when the writer needs to know this - be brutally honest one way or another.) If it was not, what suggestions might you offer to the writer? Should they start with a meaningful anecdote, a startling statistic, a surprising example? Did the ending need the thesis repeated? Would "bookending" (or "framing") have been appropriate?
Nuts and Bolts
Were at least three essays synthesized? Was correct MLA documentation employed? Was it thick with commas? Were there other mechanical problems? Spacing?
What Final Thoughts Do You Have?
What is the strongest part of the argument? What is the weakest part, most in need of further work? If this were a film, would you be checking your watch and thinking of getting more popcorn? Again, please be as honest with this writer as you hope your reader is with you.
What is most clear in the essay? What points are stated in the best manner? What should the author absolutely NOT change?
Use the following questions to improve the writer's paper:
1. What is the main point of the essay? Is the thesis stated? If so, is it clearly worded? If not, how can the wording be improved? Is the thesis stated soon enough?
2. How is the essay arranged? Do the body paragraphs appear in an appropriate order?
3. What ideas support the thesis? Does each body paragraph develop one of these ideas?
4. Does each body paragraph have a topic sentence? Does the topic sentence summarize the information in the paragraph? Are the topic sentences related clearly to the thesis?
5. Is any additional supporting information needed? List any missing points. Is any information irrelevant? If so, indicate possible deletions.
6. Are all the necessary transitions provided? Or would additional links between sentences or paragraphs help? If so, where are such links needed?
7. Does the introductory paragraph attract your attention? Would another part of the paper work better as the introduction? Which part?
8. Does the conclusion add interest to the essay and reinforce the thesis? Would another conclusion be more appropriate?
9. Is anything unclear or confusing?
Consider the sentences and words used in the paper. Without correcting
them, point out errors in sentence structure, phrasing or word choice, spelling,