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Section 2 Becoming a Researcher/Scholar / Chapter 8 Reviewing and Improving Writing
Learners who view their own writing in this manner and accept requested revisions and feedback from peers, faculty, and chairs gracefully will find that their writing will improve immensely throughout the process.
Peer reviews can be different processes depending on the level and purpose of the review. In many instances, a peer review can be beneficial as a form of proofreading and editing, but not in all cases. Beginning learners often call upon a friend or another beginning learner to review the quality, formatting, and effectiveness of the writing. As learners develop, they may seek more experienced peers from within the discipline or profession to review a possible journal article for direction, focus, and contributions to the discipline.
The first encounter a new learner may have with a peer review could be an informal request for a friend, classmate, or co-worker to serve as a peer reviewer to proofread and edit a writing piece such as an assignment. In this case, the learner would utilize the peer as another set of eyes and expect that the peer assess the piece by reading thoroughly and pointing out grammatical, mechanical, or minor word usage issues, which the learner would then revise in the final draft. The peer might also reciprocate by requesting a review for his or her own writing. This process will certainly benefit both parties, but may not fully address the proofreading or editing issues within the work since neither peer may be a skilled peer reviewer. The main purpose of this peer review, in this case, would be to catch any glaring errors or minor revisions in wording.
In the next encounter with a peer review, the learner might seek a more experienced peer who is proficient in the discipline topic or within the profession who could provide an overview and suggestions for improving the quality and merit of the writing. In this scenario, the peer could be a professional colleague, a university instructor, or a subject matter expert. Experienced peers within a discipline or profession generally understand the topic challenges, and have a good foundation in the theory and sources supporting these topics. This level of peer review can be helpful in evaluating whether the writing is concise and effective for the discipline, as the peer may point out areas needing extensive revision to meet discipline-specific or professional needs for further information. The purpose of this peer review would be to review the content for quality, relevance, scope, and merit, as well as pinpoint writing and mechanical errors for revision.
At a higher level of peer review, academic journals, conference proceedings, and, more recently, some professional books are peer reviewed by two to five preselected and highly experienced peers as a final preparation for publication. In this encounter with a peer review, the learner would submit work to the journal, conference editor, or publisher and receive written comments from all of the identified peers. These skilled peer reviewers have extensive knowledge and scholarship in the discipline and profession surrounding the topic and will be skilled in proofreading and editing for errors that affect the understanding of the content area. The comments will include instructions for further revised submissions of the work by noting whether the piece is acceptable as is, acceptable pending minor or major revisions, or if the work is rejected. Peer comments are often focused on editing required to bolster merit, quality, and relevance of the work, and may also contain limited mechanical, grammatical, and formatting revision information. It is not unusual for learners whose work is deemed acceptable pending revisions to submit three or more follow-up revised drafts before the work reaches the acceptable as is level. New learners often find this process discouraging and end the submission process without reaching the acceptable as is level. Learners who persevere can achieve the acceptable as is level for their work and learn a great deal about the content area and peer review and editing process. The major focus of this peer review is to advance the quality and depth of the work and add merit and relevance for professional colleagues before the work is published.
In the first two encounters with peer reviews noted above, learners may search for and have the opportunity to select a peer. This task should not be taken casually if the learner is sincere in improving the draft. Pursuing the most qualified peer will be a benefit in the future if the new learner uses the peer's proficiencies as a learning experience and trusts that the selected peer has proofreading, peer review, and editing knowledge beyond the new learner’s own skills and experience. In this situation, the peer should have general skills related to grammar, word usage, mechanical, and some formatting issues, and a similar background in the topic. Peers lacking in these essential editing skills or who have limited content expertise will not be as helpful to new learners.
One final note of caution: Working within the peer-review processes can be difficult at times, especially if friends or co-workers agree to serve as peer reviewers, because emotions tend to enter the equation and personalities may collide. Telling a friend or having a friend indicate that the draft is poorly written or that there are numerous grammatical or mechanical issues can result in fewer friends or annoyed co-workers. A learner may also decide to have a less familiar person proofread and edit the writing, but selecting and working with any of these persons should be considered a professional endeavor in order to avoid frustrations and complications. Learners may find it frustrating and confusing to learn that their writing style and/or level of writing is not at the level required for scholarly writing. This may become apparent during the feedback for assignments and early dissertation process. Accepting this early feedback and working to develop the skill that the feedback suggests will begin to prepare learners to view their own writing style and level as a work-in-progress. Learners who view their own writing in this manner and accept requested revisions and feedback from peers, faculty, and chairs gracefully will find that their writing will improve immensely throughout the process.