Peer Review for Better Writing

“There’s always a need to have somebody else tell you where you’re going off-course.  Nobody writes alone.  Nobody finishes work alone”Heather Paxson, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

The process of peer review does the same thing for writing as the “inspected by #13” sticker does for your undershirt: makes sure that certain standards have been reached before the product is released for general use/consumption.  For writers, this means providing assurance that the ideas presented are logical, well-defended, and communicated accurately and efficiently.  A peer with similar knowledge and/or training but with a different perspective can guide the writer to seeing where their work is not meeting standards, and suggest appropriate revisions.

In one of my current instructional design projects, the peer review process has not only provided specific suggestions for revision, but has led me to recognize certain practice and assumptions in my own writing that prohibit it from being as strong and effective as is possible.  For example, the first of these faulty assumptions is that a reader who will engage with instructional-design related material will follow similar logic and reach the same conclusions that I do regarding “why” my project is necessary.  As a writer, I need to make my case as strong and “bullet proof” as necessary, which in this case may include relating the rationale for my project to more universally accepted themes.  As a specific project-related example, I cannot assume that my readers share my same passion to provide relevant music instruction for all leaners, and must instead advocate for why music is necessary.

A second faulty practice that I am at times guilty of in my writing is not balancing generalities with specifics.  As I suggest in my own recent work as a reviewer (an equally important component of writing skill development), it is sometimes advisable to begin by providing the reader with general information about an unfamiliar idea/topic and then discuss/present project-specific information and conclusions.  However, in my own work I need to do a better job of this; in the “Learning Theory” section of my design document I present the theoretical information but do not then provide adequate project-specific examples which fully justify the choice of that learning theory.

Finally, I need to ensure that the research that I present as my evidence for my claims really says what I think and suggest that it does.  For example, in my own project I argue that longer term-professional development has been shown to be more effective that traditional “sit and get” session.  However, while the evidence for that claim proposes a one-week session, I have designed a course that lasts 16 weeks.  This begs the question that my reviewer poses: how can you use evidence from a one-week course to justify a 16-week course?  While I believe that it can still be used, I clearly need to add language making my case to my design document.

Suzanne Lane, Associate Director of Writing Across the Curriculum, MIT, states that “peer review is really the feedback mechanism about the quality of our ideas and how well we communicate them, and that’s really how academic work moves forward” (MIT Comparative Media Studies, 2017).  My role as both a peer reviewer and reviewee has helped me to recognize shortcomings in my own writing.  Moving forward, I will continue to seek peer review on as much of my work as possible, both to continue to develop my effectiveness as a writer and to contribute to the pace and development of ideas in my chosen field.

Reference

MIT Comparative Media Studies.  (2017, Jan 31).  No one writes alone: Peer review for students [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tY8CX0J3ILc&feature=youtu.be

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