“No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.”
— H.G. Wells
Sooner or later, someone is going to hand you a piece of writing and ask for your opinion. You may be asked to review another student’s essay as part of your class work. Perhaps a friend or a younger brother or sister has come to you for help. If you develop a reputation for being a good writer, then the chances are good that even your boss might ask you to look over letters or policy statements and offer your professional opinion. In any case, if you really want to do a good job in these situations, you’re going to need reviewing skills. You’re going to need to be able to identify problems, suggest alternatives, and, more importantly, support everything you say with reasonable claims. Furthermore, you must do all this in a convincing way that makes the writer want to make the changes you suggest. You must know what’s wrong with a document, why it’s wrong, and how to fix it.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “A writer is his own worst critic.” Whoever said this undoubtedly suffered from poor self-reviewing skills. After all, it’s easier to spot problems in other people’s writing because our own ego (or pride) doesn’t get in the way. Another problem is that sometimes we get so caught up in what we want to get across in our writing that we don’t pay enough attention to how we’re expressing it — a sentence that makes perfect sense to us might be total gibberish to someone else. Thankfully, these are all problems that can be overcome. You can learn to fairly and accurately review your own work. One way you can get better at self-reviewing is to spend time reviewing other people’s work. Eventually, you’ll develop a knack for spotting errors that will serve you well as you edit and revise your own work.
Writers, particularly new writers, often find that letting other writers review their work is tremendously helpful. Most universities have writing centers, where students can have their essays reviewed for free by experienced student writers or tutors. These tutors can work with you one-on-one to help you improve your writing and earn better grades.
You should realize that reviewing your work, like planning, drafting, or revising, is a recursive process. It is not something a writer does just at the end of his work. For instance, you may want to write an introduction to an essay and have it reviewed by a teacher or classmate before trudging forward. If you’re on the wrong track, you’d be better off knowing about it sooner rather than later — especially if a deadline or due date is looming.
In the academic world, journal articles and books are nearly always “peer reviewed” before they are accepted for publication. Sometimes these reviews are “blind,” meaning that neither the writer nor the reviewers know each other’s identities. This process is meant to make the process fair and ensure that every scholar gets a chance to get her work published. Academic reviewers must evaluate a work, recommend that it be published or rejected, and (hopefully) offer the writer substantial advice about how his work can be improved.
In this chapter, we’ll talk about how to develop the skills you’ll need to become a star reviewer. We’ll start by discussing “criteria,” or the standards you’ll stick to when writing reviews. We’ll talk about what to look for in a document and how to provide the very best advice to the writer. Finally, we’ll talk about how to handle criticism from reviewers who evaluate your work.
“You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.”
— Arthur Plotnik