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Peer workshop: response to first-person accounts of place

Pamela Flash

Guidelines distributed to students when they exchange drafts:

Sooo, now you have two or three drafts to work through. Give yourself enough time to really focus on this—figure 30 minutes per draft. Remember to make your comments legible—you might want to use a pencil—and to focus on the BIG PICTURE issues rather than grammar and style.

  1. Begin by writing your name and email address on the top right-hand corner of each peer draft. That way, if there's any confusion later, your peer can contact you to clear it up.
  2. Read through the paper once quickly. Resist the temptation to jump in with specific comments until after you've read through the whole paper once. Mark passages you think you might like to return to later - either because they interest you or confuse you. Put a wavy line under phrases or lines that are difficult to follow, and then move on.

Now go back, and draw out your comments further (write directly on the drafts):

  1. Scan the paper and underline what you take to be the thesis.
  • Note the extent to which it seems to meet our criteria: non-obvious, debatable, of reasonable scope. Suggestions?
  • Make a comment about its location. If it isn't until the end of the draft, at what point might you have been reading along and wondered where you were going? If it is located at the beginning of the draft, does it seem abrupt? Does it give too much away too soon? What might you have needed to hear about first?
  1. Next, look at the summary.
  • Note places where you, as a stranger to the essay, become confused — perhaps because the writer seems to have expected you to be already familiar with the target essay.
  • Note places in which the summary gets caught up in laying out the plot rather than in describing the author's work.
  • Note any places where the summary loses its neutral tone.
  • Note the amount of detail — does it give you enough of a sense of the essay? Does it give you too much?
  1. Now get into the main body of the paper.
  • Place a star (*) by points that interest you in this section and comment on what you're interested in.
  • Place a question mark (?) beside large passages that you have difficulty understanding, and a wavy line under shorter phrases/sentences that you aren't following.
  • Consider the extent to which the discussion fulfills the promise made by the thesis. What, if anything strays? What, if anything, would you like to have heard more about?
  • Note places that might have been strengthened with quotes from the original.
  • Does this section of the paper seem focused and grow organically or does it jump from point to point, like a list of different discussion points? If the latter is true, which one or two points seem like the best candidates for focus?
  • Note any places where your peer gets back into summarizing rather than developing discussion. Do you feel that you are getting an organized analysis or a guided tour back through the entire essay?
  • Does the essay seem complete, or would you like to see it develop into a larger discussion of the thesis topic?
  1. Finally, comment on the lead (first paragraph) and wrap-up (final paragraph):
  • On a scale of 1-5 (5=high), how engaging and useful did you find the lead? Suggestions?
  • If the lead doesn't mention the author or essay title, does the paper get to this information soon enough?
  • Does the wrap-up (final paragraph) "revisit" the thesis and synthesize the other elements of discussion, or does it primarily repeat the thesis or lead? What do you walk away from the lead understanding about the essay?

On the back of the paper, note answers to the following:

  1. What do you take as the focus or main point of this draft?
  2. What, specifically, interested you about the draft and/or target essay?
  3. What do you suggest as the single most important revision your peer could make?