Tips For The Class: How to Give and Receive Effective Peer Reviews

This class involves a lot of peer review assignments; in the Spring 2016 version, you'll give 44 peer reviews to your classmates. It's crucial to understand how to give and receive effective peer reviews.

Giving Effective Peer Reviews

Significant work has been done on peer review to figure out what's most effective. Below are some resources to get you started:

There are also a set of models we've seen used effectively in the past:

  • The Criticism Sandwich. Lead with some positive feedback, then move on to the critique, then return to some positive feedback.
  • The PCQ Model. Start with the Praise, then move on to the Criticism, then conclude with your Questions.
  • No Criticism, Only Advice. Instead of explicitly critiquing any element of the peer's paper, emphasize instead how it could be improved to frame your feedback positively.
  • No Review. Perhaps the best review one that isn't even a review. Instead of even focusing on how this assignment could be improved, focus instead on how you can help the peer's next assignment be even better.
  • Give Them What The Ask For. We advise that you include explicit questions or requests for your peer reviewers in your assignments; if you're reviewing an assignment with questions, make sure to answer them!

And finally, when giving peer reviews, remember that peer review serves several purposes. It is normal to think that the sole purpose of peer feedback is to receive more feedback. However, research shows that peer review is actually highly useful for the person writing the review: by putting yourself in the role of the reviewer, you approach the assignment critically and ultimately learn more about the subject. In this class, peer review is also meant in large part to expose you to the breadth of projects on which your classmates are working. Make sure to keep in mind that participating in peer review is meant to help you while reviewing, not just when you receive your own reviews.

Preparing to Receive Effective Peer Reviews

As the recipient of peer reviews, there are lots of things you can do as well to help your peer reviewers help you. Below are some recommendations we have for preparing for your peer reviews:

  • Include specific questions. In addition to just providing your work, include in your submissions specific questions you would like answered. For example, maybe you have had difficulty finding related research on this topic; in that case, ask your peer reviewers if they know of any similar projects. Alternatively, maybe you would really like some beta testers; in that case, ask your peer reviewers to email you about beta testing your tool. Try to imagine you're presenting your work to your peer reviewers live: what questions would you want them to answer?
  • Give some context. Depending on the context or status of your project, you're likely looking for different kinds of feedback. For example, when you give a user a prototype, their tendency is to critique that prototype; but when you're early in the project, you might be more open to more radically different options. Similarly, if you're doing an experiment, it's good to tell your peer reviewers where in the experiment you are: if you've already completed the experiment and now you're analyzing the data, you're not very interested in reviews of your experimental methodology. Letting your peer reviewers know where you are is helpful.
  • Provide adequate, but not overwhelming, background. The assignments and projects in this class build on each other, and thus, it is somewhat natural to write them assuming that the peer reviewer is familiar with your earlier work. That usually won't be the case, though. Rather than retelling the entire story from the beginning each time, concentrate instead on what the reader needs to know. Feel free to include a short background paragraph on every assignment you submit to get them up to speed.
  • Reference your earlier work. Similarly, there will be times when it is important for the peer reviewer to understand a certain part of your earlier work. Again, instead of retelling the story from the beginning, feel free to directly reference your earlier work. You can include it as an appendix on your assignment or link to it in the Class Assignment Library. Don't ask that they read the entire earlier assignment, though; instead, tell them exactly what you'd like them to read first to get the necessary background.
  • Request a follow-up. A single peer review is often more powerful when it is part of a broader conversation. Do not hesitate to ask your peer reviewers to leave their email address or other contact information in case you want to follow-up with additional questions about their review.