Unit 4: Fundamentals of Academic Essay Writing

20 Exploring the Essay

Parts of an Essay

An essay typically has three basic parts, the introduction, the body, and the conclusion.

Student Model for Essay 1

The essay below is an authentic student essay. This essay was chosen as a model because it effectively demonstrates the characteristics of academic writing and has an important message for the reader.

Student name
ESL 117
Essay #1, Draft #3

The Value of Peer Review in Improving Students’ Writing

The process of writing academic papers involves many steps: exploring a topic through reading and writing, narrowing a topic, organizing the ideas, writing multiple drafts, getting feedback and making revisions. Over multiple drafts, the writer refines his/her ideas in part by getting feedback from readers. In a classroom, the teacher and the classmates, or peers, can serve as easily accessible readers. Peer feedback, also called peer review or peer response, is widely used in writing classes for both native speakers and English as a Second Language (ESL) students. Peer review benefits both the writer and the reviewer, and it can be just as useful as teacher feedback.

Peer review is used in ESL classes to improve student’s English writing or get better grades on writing assignments. Many ESL programs involve international students in peer review to improve their writing skills, and many studies support the idea that peer review is essential to improve students’ writing skills. Bijami, Kashef and Nejad (2013) state that critical and specific peer comments can be utilized to enhance students’ writing skills and help students become competent writers (p.93). Peer comments can address specific aspects of writing. For example, peer comments help students improve their writing ability in terms of organization and content (Zeqiri, 2012, p. 50). Moreover, helping the writer identify the strengths and weaknesses in their writing helps the writer develop self-awareness. According to Tsui and Ng (2000), it is often difficult for students to see their own weaknesses, but peers can point out these problems (p. 166). These examples illustrate how ESL students’ writing skills can be enhanced through peer review because it helps them improve awareness of their papers’ strengths and weaknesses.

Not only does peer review benefit the writer, identifying strengths and weaknesses in another student’s writing plays an important role in improving the reviewer’s own writing ability. An important writing skill is to be able to recognize good writing by critically evaluating writing. By reading their classmates’ papers critically, students learn more about what makes writing successful and effective (Bijami et al., 2013, p. 94). In this way, reading other’s papers and being given criteria to look for allows students have a chance to develop these skills.

Furthermore, peer review seems to have some unexpected benefits for the reviewer. There are some studies that show that students who review peers’ papers are more likely to improve their writing ability than students who receive peers’ comments. Lundstrom and Baker (2009) conducted a study which compared the improvements in writing between givers and receivers of peer feedback and found that of the two groups, the giver group made more progress in writing than the receiver group (p. 32). This finding shows the givers (or reviewers) learned to judge their own work self-critically by evaluating their peers’ writing and transferring this knowledge to their own writing, resulting in significant improvements on their own papers. Thus, responding to a peer’s paper is an important way for a student to improve his/her own writing.

There are additional advantages of peer review for both the writer and the reviewer in terms of language skills, classroom environment, and confidence. Peer review not only helps students improve their writing skills but also helps them develop language skills. Language skills are developed through interaction and communication. Lundstrom and Baker (2009) write that peer review enhances not only students’ writing skills but also students’ speaking and listening skills (p. 31). Such research suggests that peer review can improve ESL students’ oral skills because they are involved in meaningful discussion and negotiations. Furthermore, peer review creates a student-centered classroom environment where students work together. Peer review encourages collaborative learning, in which students learn from and support each other (Tsui & Ng, 2000, p. 167). This collaborative group work helps to form a community of learners. In addition, peer review can increase a student’s interest and confidence in writing. Rather than relying on the teacher, the student is actively involved in the writing process (Bijami et al., 2013, p. 94). Such emphasis on learning independently further demonstrates the claim that as students take more responsibility for their writing, from developing their topic to writing drafts, they become more confident and inspired.

Although many students tend to prefer teacher feedback to peer feedback, there is evidence that peer review can be as helpful and meaningful as teacher feedback. In fact, recent studies reveal that there is no significant difference between teacher feedback and peer feedback in terms of improvement in students’ writing skills. In their study, Ruegg (2015) found that even though students who received teacher comments showed better performance on grammar than students who received peer comments, there was little difference between teacher comments and peer comments with regard to students’ improvements in areas such as organization, content, vocabulary, academic style and final grades (pp. 79-80). That is, peer feedback can be as effective as teacher feedback in revising students’ compositions and covers a wide range of writing skills. Based on their research which compared students who received peer comments to students who received teacher comments, Eksi’s findings (2012) also support Ruegg’s point that peer feedback enabled students to make significant writing improvements (p. 43). In sum, both teacher feedback and peer feedback helped students improve the quality of their writing.

In addition, teacher feedback and peer feedback can complement each other. To demonstrate this, Tsui and Ng (2000) cite a study in which 90% of the ESL students gave peer feedback that was judged to be valid by the teacher, and 60% of the students gave appropriate advice on aspects that had not been pointed out by the teacher (p. 149). These results mean that the vast majority of the student feedback was useful and accurate, and the students got additional feedback from peers that they would not have had if only the teacher had read the paper. Thus, peer feedback can expand the amount of useful feedback that the writer receives.

Many studies have shown the advantages of peer review such as improving students’ writing ability and language skills, developing students’ critical thinking skills and creating a student-centered classroom environment. That peer review is a time-consuming activity for both writing teachers and students is an undeniable fact, and students who are inexperienced in peer review will need training and guidance. Nevertheless, this investment in time and training gives students a powerful way to improve not only their writing skills, but also their abilities as thinkers and problem-solvers.


Bijami, M., Kashef, S., & Nejad, M. (2013). Peer feedback in learning English writing: Advantages and disadvantages. Journal of Studies in Education 3 (4), 91-7. doi: 10.5296/jse.v3i4.4314

Eksi, G. (2012). Peer review versus teacher feedback in process writing: How effective? International  Journal of Applied Educational Studies 13 (1), 33-48.

Lundstrom, K., & Baker, W. (2009). To give is better than to receive: The benefits of peer review to the reviewer’s own writing. Journal of Second Language Writing 18 (1), 30-43. doi: 10.1016/j.jslw.2008.06.002

Ruegg, R. (2015). The relative effects of peer and teacher feedback on improvement in EFL students’ writing ability. Linguistics and Education 29, 73-82. doi: 10.1016/j.linged.2014.12.001

Tsui, A., & Ng, M. (2000). Do secondary L2 writers benefit from peer comments? Journal of Second  Language Writing 9 (2), 147-170. doi: 10.1016/S1060-3743(00)00022-9

Zeqiri, L. (2012). The role of peer feedback in developing better writing skills. SEEU Review 8 (1), 43-62. doi: 10.2478/v10306-012-0003-8



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