Planning for Peer Editing

Peer editing can be a valuable form of feedback for your students. But in order for peer review exercises to work, students must know two things: what they're doing and why they're doing it. Here is a list of issues to consider before, during, and after peer review.

Decide why you're conducting the exercise and what you want the students to achieve. This will help you to select the most appropriate activity to meet your goals. A few good reasons to consider peer editing:

  • Students can focus on smaller issues, freeing you to focus on larger concerns

  • Editing their peers helps students learn to self-edit

  • Students can share their own useful revision strategies with each other

  • Peer reviews of drafts inherently require students to write multiple drafts and go through a revision process

  • Students receive immediate feedback in the midst of the writing process, rather than an "autopsy" of a finished product

  • Having an audience beyond the professor helps students write with readers in mind

  • Peer review allows students to see a range of possible responses to their work and to the questions raised by the assignment

  • Seeing their peers' work can help students adjust their perceptions of their own work; first-semester law students sometimes believe that everyone else is smarter than they are, or conversely that they are doing better than everyone else, without real evidence

  • Collaborative work is a part of professional development; when they become lawyers, students will be called on to work with their peers

Then, communicate to your students what they will be doing and why they will be doing it.

  • Clear instructions will help students focus on the specific areas you want them to work on

  • They will also show students that, although they do not have the expertise of the professor, they are able to make useful comments

  • A clear rationale will help them see why this assignment deserves attention; law students are busy people who prioritize accordingly!


Peer editing can be framed in a number of ways, depending on your goals, the course, the time available in class, etc. Here are some issues to consider as you decide what exercise might work best for your class.

Degree of prescription

  • Highly directed: May involve checklists; peer directs revision

  • Minimally directed: In a response-centered review, peers respond as readers, noting places in the text that confused them, struck them as effective, etc. The student must listen to all comments and decide for him/herself how to process the responses of real readers for the next draft.

(See Bean, below, for more details on advice-centered and response-centered reviews.)

Time spent in class

  • All in class: Demonstrates that the task is valuable. Allows real-time face-to-face contact with professor and peers (making it easier to clear up questions, etc.)

  • Out of class: Students become "busy legal readers" as they incorporate their peer response into their full out-of-class schedules. An out-of-class format can allow for greater anonymity, freeing students from peer pressure (as commenters) and embarrassment (as commentees) and shifting focus from the writer to the writing . (See Bach, below, for one example of a successful out-of-class peer review assignment.)


Returning to the experience in some way keeps it fresh in the students' minds and reminds them that it was not an isolated experience but part of a process. Also, the way you follow up on one peer editing assignment affects the way students will approach the next one. A couple of possibilities:

  • Read the feedback students give to each other and respond in some way (for example, with a check, check minus, check plus system)

  • Ask the students to write "writer's memos" to be handed in with their revisions. A writer's memo is a short piece in which the writer reflects on his/her writing process, including, in this case, the results of the peer feedback exercise.


So you believe in the value of peer review? Why not let your students review one of your drafts?

  • It proves that lawyers and law professors are also writers , that writing is an integral part of the profession of law

  • It demonstrates that peer review and revision are not tools for remedial students, but for all writers

  • It's only fair; you've read their work, or are going to. Modeling the process yourself helps build trust.

  • And out of the process you get feedback you can actually use.

(See Elbow, Simon below)


Following is a selected bibliography of resources on peer review. Stop by the Writing Center in 300F if you'd like copies.

  • Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001. See especially "Coaching Thinking Through the Use of Small Groups," pp. 149-168, and "Save Time by Having Students Conduct Peer Reviews of Drafts," p. 222-225.

  • Beazley, Mary Beth. "The Self-Graded Draft: Teaching Students to Revise Using Guided Self-Critique." Journal of the Legal Writing Institute 3:175 (1997). 175-193.

  • Elbow, Peter. "What Kind of Leadership Is Best for Collaborative Learning." Everyone Can Write: Essays Toward a Hopeful Theory of Writing and Teaching Writing . New York: Oxford UP, 2000. 392-394.

  • The Second Draft: Bulletin of the Legal Writing Institute Vol 15, No. 2, June 2001. Issue on collaboration and cooperation, with articles on cooperative learning in fact analysis, negotiation, and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) contexts. See especially Tracy Bach, "Collaboration in Legal Writing -- and Beyond," Craig Hoffman, "Involving Students in the Commenting Process," and Sheila Simon, "Yikes -- The Students Are Editing My Writing!"