ENG 420 14.1: Peer Review #1

Today’s Plan:

  • Calendar
  • Peer Review Criteria

Calendar and Final Paper Expectations

First, let’s take a look at the calendar.

I also wanted to visit the final paper expectations:

Final Research Paper: Final research papers should be 12 to 15 pages in length (3000 to 3750 words). I recognize that writing a longer paper can seem intimidating, but we will write these papers in stages. I will help you break down a longer paper into a series of research questions. I will review and comment extensively on drafts of these papers before final grading.

I’ve decided to lower the word count on the final paper to 2200 to 2500 words. That’s a pretty specific page range–but the specificity is intentional. Given your collective level of academic performance and career trajectories (as scholars and teachers), I want to prepare you to present at academic conferences. The standard conference allots each speaker between 15 and 20 minutes to present. That means that the standard academic conference paper, if read at a reasonable speed, should be 8 to 10 pages typed and double-spaced. If we estimate 250 words a page, then that gets us to 2000 to 2500 words (not including the works cited, footnotes, etc).

Peer Review Criteria

Throughout my career I have wavered on the usefulness of peer review. My (cynical) and pragmatic side sometimes says that the best part of peer review is combatting procrastination by making the writer produce pages well before a final deadline. Good writing takes time, because difficult ideas require marination.

I do think the feedback that writers receive through peer review can be value if the reviewers are focusing on epistemic and rhetorical elements, rather than stylistic or grammatical ones. Rather than acting as a copyeditor, act more as a managing editor. Your job isn’t to clean up the prose, but to inform the reader how much of their argument you understand, where you are confused, where you think they are wrong, where you think they should better define a term or further explicate a reference.

With that in mind, here is a checklist of things to pay attention for as you read:

  • Make sure each paragraph has a claim, and that you know why you have to read it. These are two different things! Sometimes a paragraph can have a very clear topic sentence, but rhetorically, as a reader, I am unsure why I need to know the information it provides. If you get a few sentences into a paragraph and aren’t sure how that paragraph advances the argument, then write “how does this advance the argument?” in the margins. Let’s look at an example from my other class.
  • Make sure the writer provides enough contextual information about a source that you know why you should trust it. Sometimes credibility can come from a name (Freud, Derrida, Kristeva, etc). But most sources/scholars don’t have that kind of immediate recognition. If you see a statistic, then check that you know the methods that produced that statistic. If you see a conclusion, then check that the writer has provided the grounds upon which that conclusion is based.
  • Make sure paragraphs end rhetorically (by this term I mean connecting to the audience by showing them how something advances the argument). This means making sure that 1) paragraphs don’t end with quotes. Ever. and 2) making sure that a paragraph ends by “wrapping up” an idea and/or transitioning into the next idea and/or letting a reader know where we are with an argument. The last sentence of a paragraph is just as important as the first in helping a reader follow a train of thought.
  • “The period check.” When I am reading writing in a professional capacity, I tend to read slowly. I stop after every sentence, examine it, and try to identify a question generated in its predicate. For instance, lets try two examples:
    • To commemorate the two hundredth anniversary of “The Star Spangled Banner,” its lyrics composed by Francis Scott Key in September 1814 following the failed British bombardment of Fort McHenry outside Baltimore, the Smithsonian Institution asked a group of artists to reflect on what the American flag means today.
    • The surfaces of another, which can be scrutinized as an expanse of symptoms of the inner musculature, glands, and nervous circuitry of the functional organism, double into a face.

What I don’t want you to waste time on today is grammatical errors. We are going to use a system called “minimal marking,” developed by Richard Haswell, to deal with any such errors. According to Haswell, writers can fix most grammatical errors, which are products of under-attention as the writer is invested in more epistemic dimensions of the writing process (it is hard to “think clean”). He developed a system grading papers in which he put check marks in the margins to denote a sentence that has a grammatical error. He would then leave students to identify and fix the error on their own (and to show him if they couldn’t identify the mistake.

Similarly, we are just going to use the highlight feature in Google Docs to highlight a grammatical error. We don’t want to waste screen space with comments.

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