Ah, Peer Review. How I once hated you. I did too, quite passionately detested you and would roll my eyes whenever a writing professor told the class that we would be, "splitting into groups and doing some peer reviewing." Ugh. It seemed like I never got any constructive criticism back from my peers, and the comments I received were usually about grammatical errors--not much beyond that. I never received comments from my fellow students that were useful or pointed--just vague little "awk", "frag", "rephrase?".
The most important factor of that hatred was my own ignorance (as it so often is with hatred, no?). I didn't feel that my opinion was valid or important. Stupid self esteem. I also never knew what I as a reviewer was supposed to be looking for in the paper other than grammatical errors and awkward phrases. I quickly fell into the peer review comment trap of- frag, awk, rephrase.
When I was asked to do a Peer Review in grad school I instantly wanted to roll my eyes, but I fought the urge and appeared excited about the task. Then my instructor did something extremely handy, he told us specific things to look out for, think on, point out, and question while reviewing. He also told us to think of a different title for the paper, and to write at least three good things that the writer had accomplished.
That sold me. I was in like Flynn. I love to sing praises, and I also like direction! I attacked my peer's paper with gusto and in turn fell in love with peer review. And became a more focused and thorough peer reviewer.
Peer review is so useful when your reviewer knows what to look for and how to respond. A colleague of mine in the writing center came up with this acronym to be used while peer reviewing. SQUAT. Snarky, I know...but it's very effective. Check it out!
S - Structure - Does the paper fit the format for the assignment? Are the paragraphs effectively transitioning.
Q - Questions - If you don't understand something in the paper ask a question of the writer. Be specific and pointed perhaps try something like, "Do you think that the poet used this imagery for any other reason that you have listed?" This type of question might help your writer expand on something that was lacking at first.
U - Understanding - Does it make sense? Do you get it? Does the thesis appear clear and relevant to the paper? Even rough drafts should answer these questions.
A - Analysis - If your paper includes facts or data are they analyzed correctly? Does the data fit in with the argument the writer is making? Does the data enhance the paper?
T - Tone/Target - Basically Voice and Audience...but SQUAV doesn't make any sense. This section is asking you can hear the voice of the author and if it is meshing well with the intended audience. I reviewed a paper once that was about bunnies dying in tragic ways, and the writer wrote lots of jokes. I'm sorry...but there isn't a lot of funny in bunny death. This section asks you to make sure that the voice of the author is being used appropriately and the paper is written in the best way for the intended audience.
If you ever have to do Peer Review again, which I hope you do, and you are not given prompts ... remember to SQUAT.
A focused and directed Peer Review can generate wonderful feedback for the author for the paper and you!
Plus, it's pretty great to sing praises. Thank you Stephen Jefferies for the acronym!