English Major Musings is an evergreen Paperback Paris column curated by Contributing Writer Alicia LeBoeuf.
Picture this: you’re sitting in your class, with several copies of your work printed out. Since it’s only a draft, you’re not really feeling too great about what’s written on the pages in front of you. Normally, this would be just fine, but you know what’s coming next – your teacher wants you and your peers to get into peer review groups, requiring you to read your work out loud and listen to others give you feedback. Yikes.
If you’ve been an English major for a while, this scenario probably sounds pretty familiar. If you aren’t a full-fledged English major yet… well, consider yourself warned. Most English classes – especially creative writing ones – require some form of peer revision. Now, the majority of English majors – or, let’s face it, just people in general – aren’t exactly thrilled when faced with possible criticism. But in this post, I’ll attempt to show the benefits of gaining feedback and how to navigate peer revision if it’s something that you find nerve-wracking.
There’s a reason why teachers keep insisting on having students take place in peer review groups: it’s because peer revision is incredibly beneficial. Sometimes a work can’t get better until a fresh pair of (critical) eyes looks it over. Peers can honestly tell you what works and what doesn’t, what needs to be expanded and what needs to be cut and examine components such as voice, imagery, and organization. Sometimes the writer is so close to their work that they can longer see some of the errors that lurk in their writing, and that’s when the opinions of your peers come in handy. Peer review also allows you to think about your writing more carefully. Using all the comments that you’ve received from your classmates, you can look at your work from a different perspective.
Peer revision isn’t all about constructive criticism either. Those in your peer review groups might even give you a confident boost by complimenting different components of your writing or by pointing out which parts of your piece work well. Also, peer review is a two-way process, and you can learn how to articulate your own feedback to your peers through this. Some people can even discover that they have a real talent for editing by participating in peer review groups.
When it comes to getting through peer review, it’s important to remember that there’s a good chance that everyone else in your group is, more or less, feeling nervous too. You are not alone. It’s also important to keep in mind that peer revision isn’t about attacking your work; it’s about helping your work. You have to view every comment as a way to improve instead of as a personal slight. Ultimately, it’s your choice on whether or not you follow the feedback that is given to you. While the opinions of others can be a useful tool, in the end, you are the writer.
Personally, I’ve developed a pretty thick skin in regards to peer revision over the years. Yes, I still don’t love it and I’m not a huge fan of reading my work out loud to others, but I don’t think any of the feedback I’ve received on my work has badly stung me, at least not yet. If anything, I have a tendency to be a bit annoyed if I don’t receive any constructive criticism on my work (now, I don’t think this is because my work was that spectacular but because my peers were afraid of coming off mean or harsh) because I want something to go off of when I’m revising my piece. I want to know how to make it better.
Peer revision isn’t scary – it’s a chance to get better. By remembering the benefits that come with peer revision and how you can feel more confident about the whole process, peer revision will no longer be viewed as something to dread, but as a learning opportunity.
Stay tuned for the next installment of English Major Musings at Paperback Paris!