8 rules for effective peer feedback in a group

Group feedback is an especially powerful form of peer feedback. When several peers feedback a single text at the same time, the author gets more comments and the feedbackers learn from each other. But such group rounds can also easily turn into chaos and time waste. To avoid this, follow these 8 simple rules for effective group feedback.

In my previous post you learned that peer feedback is a great method to improve your text as well as your writing skills. Here I want to show you that group feedback is even better 😉

Indeed, the researchers Cho & MacArthur note in their paper:

[S]tudents receiving feedback from multiple peers improve their writing quality more than students receiving feedback from a single expert.

The study found that peer feedbackers tend to provide more non-directive feedback than experts, which leads to more “complex repair revisions” and those improve the quality of writing.

Now, the advantage of multiple peer-feedbackers to the text author might be obvious: more eyes find more flaws, and the subjectivity of a single feedbacker is more balanced and put in a perspective within a group.

On the other hand, the feedbackers benefit from hearing the feedback of the others: things they have missed and things they see differently provide a great opportunity to learn .

But group rounds tend to turn into a nightmare if they are not well-structured : the session gets stretched out by unnecessary discussion or, even worse, it can turn into a nasty argument.

Group feedback rules

To avoid these problems and enjoy a productive peer feedback round, follow these eight simple rules:

  1. Short text & focus. The author should pick max 1–2 pages and decide on a focus for the feedback before the session.
  2. Set a time limit for the session and its parts. If you have 30min time and max 1 page of text, I suggest to spend 15min reading & writing down notes and 15min giving feedback to the author. If you have 60min time, you might want to spend 20–30min on reading and 30–40min on feedbacking.
  3. Assign a moderator who will keep track of time and following the rules. This is especially important in the first few sessions before everyone gets used to the procedure.
  4. Start the session with the author communicating the feedback focus .
  5. While the feedbackers read & write down notes, the author can revise their own text as well.
  6. Divide the actual feedbacking in two parts (roughly equal in time): in the first part the feedbackers one after another tell the author their most important feedback. The author takes notes but is not allowed to answer back ! This point is crucial in preventing those nightmares described above. It is a natural reaction when hearing feedback to try to explain & justify your original choices. But this is not useful to anyone — it only costs you time and the patience of feedbackers.
  7. The second part of feedbacking is a discussion led by the author. The purpose is to discuss those parts of the feedback that are not clear to the author, where the author wishes more guidance — or where the individual feedbackers gave contradictory feedback.
  8. At the end of the session, the feedbackers give or send their feedback notes to the author .

Case study

I have developed this feedback method with the group of Dr. Viola Priesemann . When Dr. Priesemann invited me to work with her group, almost all of the group members were writing on something: either an article manuscript or a thesis. Or both 🙂

And they were struggling : their research in computational neuroscience is abstract & complex. It’s not easy to put those math equations into words.

But since they started with regular (weekly!) feedback sessions, the quality as well as quantity of their writing improved a lot .

And their efforts are bringing visible results: a publication on COVID-19 in the prestigious journal Science, submitted in the beginning of April 2020 — only few weeks since the pandemics started! That was a fast study with a fast write-up!

Would you like to hear more about how this group uses peer feedback to help each other write better texts faster? Then stay tuned: an interview with members of Dr. Priesemann’s group is coming soon 😉

And if you are interested in peer or group feedback but lack the peer partners: join our Facebook group dedicated just to academic peer feedback.

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