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Carolyn Jacobson's Group Protocol, Part I

Writing Group Protocol, part one


Carolyn Jacobson

Since the purpose of the writing groups is to give each writer constructive commentary on his or her writing, it is important that we structure the group meetings in a way that encourages the exchange of useful information. Remember that as peer readers you are not only out to correct errors. You are also (and more importantly) there to give the writer an idea of how the essay worked in fulfilling his or her purpose(s). Comments that best serve this function are those that describe what you think an essay says and that describe how you as a reader reacted to the essay at any given point in its development. The writer needs to know how you react to the essay as you read it. Thus:

When reading an essay, make comments in the margin describing your reactions. Comments such as "this interests me," "I don't understand the connection between these points," "this puzzles me," and "I agree" are appropriate. Notice that none of these is necessarily negative. Try to make your comments as clear and specific as possible. Group discussion should help make the comments even more clear. After receiving the reactions of several different readers, each writer will be able to judge how well any rhetorical strategy works and can revise or not accordingly.

Finally, be prepared to discuss the validity and value to you of the author's opinions. This is the touchiest but finally the most important kind of commentary that a writing groups can provide an author. Since any truly effective revision is a re-seeing of the fundamental ideas on which the argument is based, it is important that your conversation help the writer to see the fundamental ideas on which the argument is based so that he or she may change the argument if he or she wishes.

The following questions might help you to focus your experience as a reader. Read them before you comment on the essay, as well as afterwards.

  1. Does the paper have an effective introduction? Is there anything the introduction might accomplish that it doesn't? Do you want to continue reading the paper after the introduction?
  2. Where is the essay's thesis? What is it? Does it appear at an appropriate place in the essay?
  3. Is the thesis limited, clearly defined, and specifically stated?
  4. Do you agree with the thesis?
  5. Does the paper support the thesis convincingly? Does the paper supply enough evidence/details/examples? Can you think of evidence that might be more persuasive, or might undermine the point of the paper?
  6. Are there statements the validity of which you question?
  7. Are there statements that you find especially effective? Are there statements that require revision? How would you revise them?
  8. Is the essay well-organized? Are there places where the relationship between sentences or paragraphs could be clearer? Can you suggest some more effective transitions?
  9. Is there a paragraph division for every major point? Does each paragraph have a controlling idea of plan of development? Which sentence states the topic of the paragraph?
  10. Are there sentences that are irrelevant to the paragraph?
  11. What other revisions would you suggest?
  12. Are there particular grammatical problems that detract from the paper's effectiveness? What specific sections of the Hacker handbook would you advise the writer to read?
  13. Does the essay have an adequate conclusion? Does the conclusion do more than simply restate the thesis in different words? How would you improve it?
  14. Does the title apply to the paper? Is it appropriate? Does it make you want to read the paper?
  15. If the essay were suddenly taken away from you, what would you remember most about it?

After you've thought about these questions, write a comment of at least three paragraphs at the end of the paper. The first paragraph should consist of a description of the thesis of the piece and a brief summary of the evidence used, in your own words. If your outline and the author's intended thesis do not match, that tells the author either something about your reading or about his or her presentation of the argument, or both. In the next two paragraphs, be sure to mention both the paper's weaknesses and its strengths, and make specific suggestions for revision.