Getting & Giving Feedback: The Peer Review

Putting our writing in front of an immediate reading audience, even if it is our classmates, can be intimidating and stressful. We often get emotionally attached to our writing and it’s difficult to hear criticism, no matter how well-intentioned or constructive. Receiving feedback from our peers, however, is one of the most beneficial ways we can improve our writing. It’s not only valuable to receive feedback, but is also equally valuable to be able to read what our classmates are writing. The opportunity to review our classmates’ writing can offer us new possibilities for our own essays we hadn’t thought about before.

Peer Groups

Usually your instructor will create groups of 3-5 students to form a peer group, depending on the assignment and time allowed. Often, instructors will have a practice essay to demonstrate how they would like you to evaluate the writing. If not, they may give you some peer review questions to answer for the writers. As a group member, it’s your responsibility to offer helpful feedback with an eye towards revision. Often, participating fully, through both verbal and written feedback, is part of your class participation grade.

Reading Aloud

It’s peer workshop day, so now what? Depending on how your instructor organizes the groups, you’ll probably be asked to read your essay aloud. Why? Reading aloud is the only way to “hear” the language. You’ll catch more sentence-level problems by reading aloud, but you’ll also be better able to comprehend missing elements or catch nonsensical logic. Reading aloud also gives you the ability to see the reactions to your piece. Some writers prefer for a peer-group member to read their essay so they can hear it read by someone else, as often we’ve read our own pieces so many times we read things that may not be there. Either way, make sure to hear your essay aloud.

Margin Comments

As reviewer, when your peers’ essays are read, follow along closely and make margin notes. You might give a “!” for a passage that is really strong and works well, and a “?” for a passage that might need a bit more information or is confusing. Don’t stop to write too much as it’s being read, but keep following the reader. Wait until the reader has stopped to write more detailed feedback.

Written Comments

After hearing the essay read aloud and making margin notes, you’ll take a few minutes to write down more thoughtful comments. If your instructor provides you with specific questions to answer, you’ll offer thoughtful written comments towards those directives. One thing you’ll want to avoid is answering “It looks good to me.” This type of non-feedback is neither constructive nor helpful. The most common student complaint after peer review day is they received no constructive feedback, and were usually told it “looked good.” Remember that everyone will come to the group writing at different levels, but even if you feel the other students are better writers than you does not mean you can’t offer them a few suggestions towards their revision process. Even strong writers need to revise their work.  

Verbal Feedback

Once the group is done writing comments, you’ll now address the writer. Explain your written comments, offering praise for the parts that worked particularly well, and suggestions towards revision for areas that may need more information or explanation. Usually, the “gag rule” is imposed during this step, which means the writer listens to the feedback from their peers without responding, explaining or defending. The writing has to stand on its own without “Well, what I meant was. . .” from the writer. When the peer reviewers are done, the writer may then ask for clarification or further suggestions.

Getting What You Want Out of Your Peer Review

The peer review process is what it says: peer review.  Instructors usually stay out of this process and let the students lead the group how they see fit. This puts the responsibility of the peer review process – and outcome – on the students. If you are not satisfied with the feedback you have received, speak up. Ask for more. Make sure you leave with written comments, as you will forget verbal comments before you hit the door. If you have no directions from your instructor, direct your own feedback. If you feel you are particularly weak in organization or description, specifically ask your peers to focus on those areas you feel you need the most help with. Keep in mind, however, these are peer workshops, not editing groups. Don’t depend – or ask – your peers to fix your grammar and punctuation. That’s your job.

Feed-forward

Peer workshops are a valuable tool as you work through the revision process. As a reviewer, always focus your comments towards revision – toward the next draft. It’s okay to praise or question what has already been written, but offer suggestions for the next draft. Think of it not as feedback, but feed-forward.

Write on!

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5 Tips to Integrate Sources & Use Attributive Tags Effectively

 

Regardless whether you summarize, paraphrase, or directly quote, outside sources must be integrated smoothly into your essay. Research that is stuck in carelessly without careful integration runs the risk of sounding like it doesn’t belong, creating paragraphs that lack cohesiveness and focus. Instructors often refer to this as the “cut and paste” research paper that will often garner a failing grade. Follow the tips below to learn how to integrate source material effectively.

Tip # 1: Write the draft first

Before you begin to integrate your sources, you need something to integrate them into. Writers who try to compose a paper at the same time they are integrating sources find they lose their “voice,” and begin to sound like the voice of the research they are quoting. To avoid this, write a first draft of your paper, with only your words and your voice doing the talking. By taking this first step in getting your ideas on paper, you’ll avoid letting the research take over. Some instructors require a rough draft before even integrating source material to confirm you are not borrowing others’ ideas.

Tip # 2: Use Attributive Tags

 Attributive, or author tags, refers to a few words of introduction of your source. An attributive tag includes the author’s name, and varying information depending on the context, including the author’s professional title (is he or she a “Dr.”  Scientist,” “Researcher,” or “Professor”?), the article’s title, and any other relevant information, which could include the author’s position on the subject (“John Smith, ecologist and staunch opponent of keeping animals in captivity. . .”).

An author tag identifies the information presented as coming from an outside source and not you. You must make clear throughout your paper what information is coming from outside sources. Failing to use attributions is considered a type of unintentional plagiarism.

Tip # 3: Vary the way author tags are used

 Author tags can be incorporated in 3 ways:

  1. The author tag can be introduced first before the quoted material.
  2. The author tag can be placed in the middle of the quoted material.
  3. The author tag can be placed at the end of the quoted material.

EX. 1
Vivian Cook, author of Second Language Learning and Language Teaching, says that “there is no such thing as the classroom, as classrooms vary in so many ways” (149).

EX. 2
“There is no such thing as the classroom,” says Vivian Cook, author of Second Language Learning and Language Teaching, “as classrooms vary in so many ways” (149).

EX. 3
“There is no such thing as the classroom, as classrooms vary in so many ways,” says Vivian Cook, author of Second Language Learning and Language Teaching (149).

Note that in the first example, there is no comma after that, as it reads as a continuous thought. If the attribution ended with the word says, it would have a comma immediately after “says” and the first word of the quoted sentence would be capitalized.

Vivian Cook, author of Second Language Learning and Language Teaching, says, “There is no such thing as the classroom, as classrooms vary in so many ways” (149)

Tip # 4: Use a colon when the author tag is a full sentence

The rule for using a colon following an attributive tag is if the tag is a complete sentence or independent clause, it must be followed by a colon. (Note that the author tags in the previous examples are all technically sentence fragments.)

Incorrect

Cameron believes artists should stop making excuses for not following their dreams. “Stop waiting until you make enough money to do what you really love” (57).

The quote above is an example of a dangling quote, or a quote that stands alone as a sentence. You can often (though not always) correct this mistake by taking the previous sentence and place a colon at the end instead of a period:

Correct:

Cameron believes artists should stop making excuses for not following their dreams: “Stop waiting until you make enough money to do what you really love” (57)

Tip #5: Use attributive tags with paraphrases and summary

When incorporating paraphrase and summary, it is impossible to tell if the information is the thoughts of the writer or from an outside source without attributive tags. In the examples below, the writer includes the name of the source, even though it is a paraphrase and not a direct quote. By doing this, the reader knows the information is coming from research and not the writer:

In Talking from 9 to 5, Deborah Tannen explains that for women in the workplace, the situation is changing, whether we talk about it or not (130).

Nickerson argues that clear communication hinges upon what an audience does and does not know. It is crucial to assume the audience has neither too much nor too little knowledge of the subject, or the communication may be inhibited by either confusion or offense (737).

As you work on integrating your source material –

  • Avoid using two quotations in a row without intervening (explanatory) material of your own.
  • Avoid referring to your sources as quotes. Instead of, “In this quote,” write “Here we see. . .” or “As Smith points out. . .”.  (http://library.rpcc.edu)
  • Introduce the quote; quote; explain the quote. Always place outside research in context to the point you are attempting to make, and do it in your own words.

Taking care to integrate your outside source material will result in a top-notch research essay that will flow naturally and earn you respect as a thorough and fair researcher.

 

10 Do’s and Don’ts for Argument Essays

When writing argument essays, understanding basic principles for academic writing will help you avoid the many possible pitfalls that might be lurking. Below are ten do’s and don’ts to follow for the best argument essay ever!

  1. DO follow assignment guidelines. Students often write great essays, only to fail to follow assignment directions. If you are asked to include eight sources and you give two, that’s not meeting the minimum requirements. If you write an informational essay when you are assigned an argument paper, that’s a big problem. If in doubt, always ask your instructor.
  2. DON’T preface a statement with phrases such as, “I believe,” or “I think.” These expressions only serve to weaken the statement. It’s akin to an apology for your opinion. Unless you are quoting or paraphrasing, it’s a given you “believe” or “think” something. Instead of “I think that college should be free for all,” revise to, “College should be free for all.” See how much stronger and emphatic the second example is?
  3. DO take citation style seriously. Many students who have never written a research paper or are unfamiliar with MLA or APA citation requirements often believe the rules concerning in-text citation, works cited, or reference pages are a low priority. However, most instructors who assign research papers expect students to follow these rules and will often deduct a large number of points for failure to follow the guidelines.
  4. DO attribute all ideas to their source. Often in research papers, it’s obvious that ideas or opinions are not the author’s, but are not cited to an outside source. Students paraphrase others’ ideas into their own words, but often fail to cite. This creates the impression that the information is coming from the writer, when in fact, it’s a source’s idea or opinion. Always give credit to avoid plagiarism.
  5. DON’T signpost. Signposting refers to directional signs in your writing that tell the audience what you just said or what you will say. This might be required in speech class, but it’s not necessary in written papers. Avoid telling your audience what you previously said or what you will say – just say it!
  6. DO integrate quotes smoothly. When incorporating sources, research must be integrated into your own writing smoothly, introduced completely, and synthesized fully. Simply sticking a quote in a paragraph because it might be related to the content doesn’t offer the reader any context and could lead to research that seems stuck in and out-of-context.
  7. DON’T use inflated phrases. When writing a research paper, students often think they have to take on a voice of authority, and they believe they need to use wordy constructions to sound “academic,” when all it does is sound pretentious. Wordy, inflated phrases are also confusing to read. Use your own voice and eliminate wordiness.
  8. DO organize your paper logically. While there are several different ways to organize an argument essay, make sure the organization method you choose is logical for what you are trying to do. Ideas should flow smoothly one to the next, and avoid repetition. Avoid jumping back and forth between paragraph topics.
  9. DON’T slack on the conclusion. A common response on student papers is, “Ends abruptly.” Often students concentrate so intently on building the body of a research paper and incorporating sources that they overlook the importance of a strong conclusion.
  10. DO carefully proofread. Spell-check is great, but it doesn’t help find word usage errors, one of the most common errors in academic papers. It’s also difficult to find everything in one read-through. After you have read your essay through at least once to check for good paragraph structure, focus and flow, do a final edit for punctuation and grammar only. Better yet, read it backwards to slow your reading down, making it easier to see errors.

 

 

No Research Required: Tips for Writing a Narrative Essay

 

Narrative or Personal Essays are a common writing assignment in English classrooms. Many freshman will run across this type of writing in college, and for natural storytellers, it can be a fun assignment. If the guidelines ask you to simply retell an event from your past, you already know the information! For a narrative essay, most likely, no research is required. Composing a narrative is simply a matter of putting a story from your past on paper. Sounds easy, right?

Actually, not as easy as it sounds. Move ahead with caution.

One of the biggest problems that arise when composing a personal narrative is not compiling the information; you already know it, as it’s part of your memory. The problems often lie in organizing those memories into a cohesive, well-organizing, interesting story that holds the reader’s attention from start to finish. This is not always so easy.

Once Upon a Time

Logic would tell you that if you want to retell a story or event, you will start at the beginning and conclude at the end. Right? Not necessarily. Taking a story out of chronological order is often the most effective way to hold the reader’s attention, create rising tension, an exciting climax, and conclude with a thoughtful reflection of what it all meant to you. This is what is referred to as the “narrative arc.” This seems logical; beginning, middle, end. Sometimes these narrative essays will incorporate a brief flashback, but never deviate from the chronological retelling of events.

The problem with this kind of storytelling organization is that it can become tedious to a reader. Writers tend to begin too far back, before the actual event even begins, then proceed to tell every detail up to the conclusion. By the time the reader gets to the main event or action, he or she may lose interest. By taking the narrative out of chronological order and begin in the middle of the action, or what writers refer to as in media res, we get off to a swift start that will sustain the narrative through to the end and hook the reader’s interest.

In medias res (or medias in res) is a Latin phrase which simply means the narrative story begins at the mid-point of the action rather than at the beginning. Setting, characters, and conflict can be set up immediately via flashback, conversations, or inner reflection. The main advantage of starting in the middle of the event is to open the story with dramatic action rather than explanation (exposition) which sets up the characters and situation in an exciting and captivating story. The reader is hooked immediately; a “hook” is often a requirement of a narrative essay. Beginning in the middle of action avoids what writers refer to as spinning your wheels or throat clearing; a lot of talk that gets you nowhere.

In medias res often (though not always) entails nonlinear narrative, or non-chronological order; earlier events are condensed briefly in the backstory. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey use this technique to begin with the action of the Trojan War. To Kill a Mockingbird begins with Jem’s broken arm, which doesn’t happen in the narrative until the conclusion. The entire Star Wars series is completely out of chronological order! Think about the stories you’ve read for class; where in the story has the action begun? I’ll bet you’ll find it is seldom in the actual beginning of events.

CUT!

When composing your own essay, there is no right technique on how to organize it, but one tool writers use once a solid draft is complete, is scissors. Print your draft on one side, and cut each paragraph into its own page. One you have all of your paragraphs cut up, lay each out in front of you. Try to envision where the narrative could be re-arranged, and play with the organization. When you chopped up your essay, did you notice a lot of paragraph breaks, or two double spaces between paragraphs (white space)? If you tend to use a lot of paragraph breaks with no discernible reason, maybe that paragraph is in the wrong place in the narrative. Place the end at the beginning. Place the beginning in the middle. If a paragraph doesn’t fit, maybe it’s not needed. Maybe you’ll find a gap in time or action that needs more information to clarify details of the event.

Once you shift your perspective to consider other possibilities of organization for your narrative other than chronological, you may find that the first two pages of your narrative are unneeded. You will hook the reader more quickly by eliminating non-essential details and placing him or her immediately into the action, which will improve the narrative arc and set you on course for a narrative essay that your reader can’t put down.

 

 

Breaking Down the Rhetorical Triangle

 

The concept of the rhetorical triangle has been in existence as far back as ancient Greece. The great philosopher and teacher, Aristotle, became fascinated with how rhetoric functions. How an individual says something, the emotions and sentiment used, conveys as much or more meaning as what one says, or the actual content of message. Aristotle defined 3 key elements of rhetoric: Logos, Ethos, and Pathos.

While many philosophers defined rhetoric in their own language, Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle is known and taught widely in modern-era composition classrooms. Studying the rhetorical triangle teaches writers whether or not they have created an effective argument. Over time, different scholars have conceived different models of rhetoric, so you may find the definitions vary slightly from text to text.

Logos

The Greek logos, means “word.” Originally, logos referred to the content of a speech and how it was organized, though today in speech or argument writing, a well-developed logos refers to a strong claim and reasoning, or the “message.” For effective logos, the argument must have

A Clear and Consistent Claim

Logical Reasons

Effective Evidence

The claim, or thesis, must be clear for the audience. The reasons are often referred to as “because clauses,” which is a simple way to define the argument in the early stages of drafting. For instance, the claim, “Rap music has a bad influence on teens,” can be completed with a logical reason: “Rap music has a bad influence on teens because it promotes disrespect for women.” Once a claim and reason are made, effective evidence must back up the claim for an effective argument.


Ethos

Greek for “character,” ethos refers to the writer’s (or speaker’s) perspective and credibility. A paper with a strong ethos will utilize several strategies to communicate the message effectively. A writer can develop ethos by utilizing effective tone and style; incorporating strong evidence and support; and including fair treatment of opposing views.

The writer or speaker must always be mindful of the impression created by their delivery of a message. Understanding audience plays an important role in effective ethos. When writing an argument, consider how you, as the speaker, are coming across. For effective ethos, the writer (or speaker) must

Be knowledgeable. Present strong reasoning and support for your argument.

Be fair. The opposition may disagree with your argument, but they may have their own valid opinions.

Understand your audience by using audience-based reasons.


Pathos

Pathos, Greek for “suffering” or “experience,” refers to the emotional appeal the writer makes to the audience. For effective pathos, the writer must first understand exactly who their audience is. Some texts refer to pathos as “audience.” Tone and style plays a large role in pathos.

One way to incorporate pathos into your argument is by telling a narrative story. For example, if you are arguing to legislate a one-strike law for drunk driving offenses, showing your audience the scene at a drunk driving accident will create sentiment and incite emotion that is more persuasive than reasoning alone. Storytelling, with vivid language and illustrations, can create a strong emotional reaction in an audience, moving them to your side.


Final Thoughts

Some instructors include other rhetorical elements, Telos, or “purpose,” and Kairos, or “setting.” All of these terms are interconnected, and each has qualities that affect how they interrelate. Each element in the rhetorical triangle, logos, ethos, and pathos, carries some responsibility for the success – or failure – of the argument.

 

(Some definitions from Writing Arguments: A Rhetoric with Readings)

Tighten Up! Omit Needless Words & Phrases from your Writing

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Many writers, beginning and experienced, often inflate their sentences with unnecessary words, but strong writing is not complicated or wordy writing. Good writing is tight, concise, and to the point. Inflating your writing with superfluous words will lead to confusion in not only your sentences, but can also lead to a confusing message in your essay. Read on to learn how to tighten your writing and improve your sentences.

Eliminate Wordy Phrases

One of the easiest fixes to tighten your writing is to eliminate wordy phrases. Read over your essay to see if a wordy phrase can be reduced to a word or two without changing the meaning:

At the present time  Today our business has no deficit.

The end result is tragic if a patient is not treated swiftly.

The final outcome will be difficult to determine.

Because of the fact that NASA has cut funding, the space missions are in jeopardy.

 

Eliminate Empty or Meaningless Words

Read each sentence carefully to locate words that offer no essential information to a sentence. Some of the most common empty words in student essays are very, really, and definitely.

They were really trying hard to get the bill passed.

The paper was very interesting. 

The research definitely shows that meditation reduces stress.

If you find you use very or really a little too frequently, it’s often a sign that the sentence needs to be rewritten with stronger language. Note the changes in the revised sentence below:

They were struggling to get the bill passed.

The paper was fascinating.

The research confirms that meditation reduces stress.

 

Omit “It is” Constructions

One of the most common sentence constructions found in student writing is beginning a sentence with “It is” or “There are,” both of which create a subject-less, and often confusing, sentence. Look at the sentences below and consider what the “it is” might be referring to:

It is possible that the cause of her headaches is stress.

Revised: The cause of her headaches is stress.

It is worth pointing out that both governors were incorrect.

Revised: Note that both governors were incorrect.

It is clear that research supports his findings.

Revised: Clearly the research supports his findings.

It is often the case that initial experiments fail to prove anything.

Revised: Often initial experiments fail to prove anything.

 

Tighten sentences beginning with “There are” to clarify meaning and improve style by locating the real subject of the sentence. Below, the real subject of the sentences is underlined:

There are numerous reports of widespread corruption.

Revised: Numerous reports suggest widespread corruption.

There are only two questions left to answer.

Two questions are left to answer.

There are numerous studies that show the opposite is true.

Numerous studies show the opposite is true.

 

Before you turn in your final draft, take some time to work on eliminating any redundant, excessive, or unnecessary words or language from your sentences. Your ideas will communicate more clearly, writing will flow more smoothly, which means your ideas will be taken more seriously.

The Basics of Paragraph Structure

Middle-School-Paragraphs-200x90

A paragraph is simply a group of related sentences comprised of a single topic. Creating a good paragraph structure helps your reader easily follow the piece of writing. If your paper is full of wonderful ideas, but the ideas are not presented in a well-organized, coherent, logical order, then your reader will become frustrated and most likely stop reading.

ONE IDEA = ONE PARAGRAPH

The most important rule to follow when creating paragraphs is to remember that one paragraph contains one idea. Following that one simple rule will prevent most, if not all, problems with paragraph structure. Novice writers often try to include as much information as possible in one paragraph, which creates a jumbled mess of ideas that are hard, if not impossible, to follow. If you begin a new topic, begin a new paragraph.

SUPPORTING DETAILS

Since your paragraphs will have one main idea or point, the paragraph will include supporting details, but those supporting points will be directly related to the paragraph’s main idea. It’s okay to have several supporting points in one paragraph, as long as they are directly related to the main idea or point of the paragraph.

ELEMENTS OF GOOD PARAGRAPH STRUCTURE

  1. Your paragraphs should be unified. When paragraphs are unified, they have a clear focus. The paragraph begins with one main idea, the idea carries throughout the paragraph, and the conclusion of the paragraph maintains focus on that one controlling idea, and avoids wandering off-track or introducing new or unrelated information.
  2. Your paragraphs should be cohesive. A cohesive paragraph is one that makes the information easily understandable. The words and ideas flow logically with smooth transitions from sentence to sentence. The one main idea you began the paragraph with continues from sentence to sentence. Transitional words guide the reader through the paragraph for a fluid reading. A reader should be able to quickly read the paragraph and be able to easily summarize what it is about.
  3. Your paragraph should be fully developed. The one main idea or topic in the paragraph should be adequately discussed, leaving nothing in question. Fully developed, however, doesn’t mean wordy or redundant. In contrast, a paragraph that is too short will leave questions in the reader’s minds about the main idea. In most college-level writing, paragraphs of 2 or 3 sentences, especially in research papers, or are often not fully developed.

WHEN TO START A NEW PARAGRAPH

If you want to discuss a new idea or make a new point, start a new paragraph. In longer research papers, you might need to start a new paragraph if the main point in the paragraph becomes extended with supporting, related explanation or research.

You can also start a new paragraph if you want to contrast ideas or offer opposing viewpoints to your main point. Even though the ideas are related, creating separate paragraphs of contrast help the reader to follow your line of reasoning and prevents paragraphs from becoming too long and confusing.

An introduction to an essay will always be in its own paragraph; similarly, always begin a new paragraph for your conclusion. Both the intro and conclusion may have multiple paragraphs, depending on the essay’s length and the writer’s purpose, but intro information and concluding information should never be integrated in body paragraphs.

To test your paragraphs, have a peer read each carefully and ask him or her to identify the controlling idea, and evaluate the unity, cohesiveness, and development of the paragraph. If the paragraph cannot be read fluidly and be easily understood, revise.

Good paragraph structure is an essential element to good writing and a strong composition. Make sure each sentence in a paragraph only discusses one main idea or point, creating a unified, cohesive, fully-developed paragraph. Well-constructed paragraphs lead to well-constructed papers.