Submitted by Matthew Schulkind

When I was in graduate school, I was hungry – literally.  I needed money, so I took a job teaching the University Writing Course (UWC).  The course was similar to a first-year seminar at Amherst, except it was designed to focus on writing.  Reading other people’s work taught me a great deal about my own writing.  It was very easy to identify problematic sentences, paragraphs, or arguments in my students’ writing.  It was very difficult to explain the nature of the problem and even more difficult to provide useful advice on how to address the problem.  The struggle to verbalize the difficulties I encountered as a reader helped me identify similar problems in my own writing.  I was more aware of my reader’s perspective and had a vocabulary for diagnosing and fixing common rhetorical pitfalls.   

Shortly after the first paper assignment is due, I will send you a paper written by one of your colleagues.  You will not know the identity of the author, nor will you know the identity of the person who reviewed your paper (that way, we can all be friends when the process is done).  You should read and evaluate the paper critically.  Your job is to provide the author with feedback that will help him/her revise the paper for the final paper assignment (if s/he chooses to write a revision).  I have prepared two sets of questions to help focus your reviews – one for the open-ended assignment and one for research report  (see links in menu to the left).  Choose the one that is appropriate for the paper you are reviewing and answer the questions as best you can.  Although I want your review to be critical, it should also be respectful.  Don’t gloss over problems, but be careful not to belittle the author.  After all, it is very likely that your reviewer will identify many of the same problems in your paper.  Also, be generous with praise when it is appropriate.  Mention strengths as prominently and forcefully as you mention weaknesses. 

Ideally, you will benefit from this assignment in two ways.  First, the feedback you get about your paper will help you revise it for the final paper assignment (if you choose to do a revision).  Second, the experience of critiquing another writer will give you a better understanding of the challenges a reader faces when approaching an unfamiliar text.  We are often too close to our own writing to see it clearly.  Learning to evaluate your own text from the reader’s perspective will help you diagnose problems that would otherwise remain transparent.