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Good Writing Happens in Good Company: Three Benefits of Peer Feedback
Image credit: Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash
Ever hear of “Lonely Writer Syndrome?” It’s the clinical-sounding term that Writer’s Digest uses to describe the isolation that writers can feel as they toil away by themselves in front of their laptops. But writing does not necessarily have to be a solitary activity. As students who participate in multi-author research can attest, writing can be a highly interactive process, with team members trading drafts back and forth. For those of us in disciplines where single-author projects are the norm, we sometimes forget how helpful peer feedback can be. Here are three reasons to seek out feedback on your next writing project. “”
First, peer feedback can help you stick to a writing timeline. At GradFund, students frequently use our appointments not just for comments on their drafts, but to create a schedule that helps them stay on top of their funding deadlines. If you are working on other types of writing projects, another option for keeping yourself on track is to organize a small group of friends to exchange drafts on a regular basis. A weekly or monthly draft-sharing group can motivate you to stay focused on your writing goals.
Second, showing your drafts to peers is also useful for identifying concepts and background information that you need to explain in more detail. As a scholar, you have been immersed in your topic for so long that you’ve forgotten that most people aren’t steeped in the “minutiae of orangutan feeding habits” or “Chinese labor relations”. Your peers’ thoughtful questions can show you where you need to add more detail to tell a fuller, more interesting story about your work. Moreover, though opening yourself up to feedback can sometimes make you feel vulnerable, your peers’ comments can also build your confidence by showing you how deeply you have come to understand your topic.
Finally, not only is it helpful to ask for peer feedback, but it is also useful to give feedback as well. Often when we read a polished journal article, the building blocks of the author’s argument are virtually invisible because the elements of the paper fit together seamlessly. By contrast, reading peer’s unpolished drafts forces you to think explicitly about how to make their arguments stronger. Helping your friends hone their arguments then sharpens your own ability to diagnose trouble spots in your own writing.
In sum, if you are feeling stuck in your writing, or if you suspect you may be coming down with a case of “Lonely Writer Syndrome”, ask for peer feedback. Inviting others to comment on your work, and volunteering your time to help friends with their drafts, will ultimately make you a more productive, clearer, and more effective writer.