Peer Critiques

You should have been emailed the URL for one of your classmates’ projects. Go to that classmate’s website. Take a few minutes to look around the site–look at the home page, the gallery, and the blog page, then go to Blog post 13.

Read through your classmate’s paper once, without stopping. It is important to get the big picture of the essay before you focus on the individual parts. 

Re-read the essay with a pencil or a pen in hand and make notes while you read. If you can, it’s good idea to print out the paper and make notes in the margins. However, don’t spend a lot of time proofreading things like grammar or word choice.  Focus instead on the paper’s organization, paragraph structure, supporting details, etc.

Open up a new document in Microsoft Word and write comments to the author in the form of a formal letter (this is the only assignment I’m asking you to do this semester that should not be published to your website).

Your response should be approximately one-page long, single-spaced. Make your comments as constructive and specific as you can so that the author can use them to improve the paper. Provide positive feedback along with constructive suggestions. Email the letter to the paper’s author, and CC me ( so that I can grade the letter and so that I know the original author received it.

In composing your letter, look at the following set of questions. It is not a checklist; rather, it should serve as a useful guide for the direction of your comments.

  • Argument
    • What is the essay’s argument, and has the author made it clear? Is it appropriate for a paper of this length? 
    • If the author states the point directly (i.e. has a thesis statement), is it effective? Is the thesis narrowly focused enough to be the basis for a detailed argument? Is it clear and compelling? Is it debatable? Does the author simply state the obvious, or offer an original point of view? 
    • If the author allows the reader to infer the point of the paper, has she or he focused the paper enough to make that point clear? 
    • Are you convinced by the author’s reasoning? Are there any leaks in the logic of the piece? Does the author make any statements without enough supporting evidence? 
    • Are there places where you felt lost when you read the paper? Are there parts of the paper that you found confusing?
  • Details and Support 
    • Does the paper meet the requirements for evidence? Does it cite:
      • At least three primary sources? 
      • At least three secondary sources? 
      • At least three visualizations? 
    • Are there ideas that need more evidence, more detail, or more support in order to be vivid or convincing? 
    • Are there parts of the paper that you thought were irrelevant or repetitive? 
    • Does any part of the paper depend on overgeneralizations, clichés, or broad moral claims? 
    • Does the author clearly relate all of the details and supporting evidence to the point of the paper? Were there any parts of the paper where you found yourself unsure how the part related to the whole? 
  • Organization
    • Do you think the author presented the material in an effective order? Was there a clear order? 
    • Do the introduction and conclusion frame the essay effectively? 
    • Are the author’s ideas appropriately organized into paragraphs? 
    • Does each paragraph work to prove the thesis? How could the author connect unrelated paragraphs to the main argument? 
  • The Ever-Important Kudos!
    • What are the best parts of the paper?
    • What has the author done especially well?
    • What do you think the author should definitely keep in the final draft? 

Remember: you shouldn’t try to answer all of the above questions in your letters to your classmates. You should, rather, try to highlight those things that would most improve their paper, and those points where their paper is most successful.

In order to earn credit on this assignment, your letter should demonstrate a careful, close reading of the paper. Even if you think the paper is excellent as-is and requires no revision, you must still complete a letter that is one full page, single-spaced. Remember what Jeremiah Chamberlin says: “You become a strong writer by writing critiques, not reading them”–the point is learning to identify what works and what doesn’t work in a digital humanities paper.