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Implementing and Evaluating a Peer Review of Writing Exercise in a First-year Design Project

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

First-year Programs Division Technical Session 2: Design in the First Year: Challenges and Successes

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.910.1 - 26.910.12



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Paper Authors


Kathleen A Harper The Ohio State University

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Kathleen A. Harper is a senior lecturer in the Engineering Education Innovation Center at The Ohio State University. She received her M. S. in physics and B. S. in electrical engineering and applied physics from Case Western Reserve University, and her Ph. D. in physics from The Ohio State University. She has been on the staff of Ohio State’s University Center for the Advancement of Teaching, in addition to teaching in both the physics department and college of engineering. Her research interests address a broad spectrum of educational topics, but her specialty is in how people learn problem solving skills.

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Implementing and Evaluating a Peer Review of Writing Exercise in a First-Year Design ProjectAs part of a 10-week “cornerstone” design project in the second semester of a first-yearengineering sequence, student teams must submit a complete documentation package, includinga thorough technical report. During the nearly twenty-year history of the program, teams havesubmitted drafts of each half of the report earlier in the term for feedback. In spite of the heavyemphasis on technical writing in the prior semester, these drafts were often disappointing andtime-consuming to grade. Also, it sometimes seemed that feedback on the first half draft hadlittle impact on the quality of the second half draft.To address these weaknesses, a peer review of writing exercise was introduced. Teams nowdraft the first two sections of their report and receive feedback from four of their classmates.This feedback is via comments written on the draft, as well as through responses to questions ona feedback form designed by the instructors. The exercise is structured such that each memberof a team (typically made of four students) reviews a different team’s draft, so that they can seehow several other groups have approached starting their reports. After the team has completedthe reviews of their classmates’ work, but before it has received their feedback, it engages in areflective conversation, prompted by a handout. Teams are asked to identify aspects of theirdraft that were better than those they read, as well as describe modifications that they will maketo their report based upon what they saw from their classmates. Teams then receive the peerfeedback and begin working on the subsequent draft.In the spring of 2014, a qualitative analysis was conducted to answer a few basic questions aboutthe assignment: 1) What types of advice do the students give to each other? 2) Is the advice inline with good technical communication practice? 3) What areas for improvement do teamsidentify as a result of reviewing others’ drafts? 4) Do the teams use the advice from their peersin subsequent report drafts?The analysis yielded 5 major categories of comments from the students: writing style, grammar,content, organization and formatting, and visuals. Roughly ninety-nine percent of the studentcomments contained appropriate advice. The group reflections showed that most teamsidentified at least three major aspects in which they could improve their writing, just based uponlooking at other groups’ reports. Further, when they received the feedback from their peers, theyused it; every subsequent draft contained modifications that could be directly linked to commentsreceived from other teams. The quality of all reports improved as a result.The results of this analysis also suggest improvements to the exercise itself. While students wereable to identify most of the elements needed for good figures and tables, they did not alwaysprovide good advice about their placement and use. It was also learned that students need moreguidance in appropriate use of citations. While the exercise has proven to be effective overall,adjustments are being made to both it and some of the preceding writing instruction to betteraddress these aspects of technical communication.

Harper, K. A. (2015, June), Implementing and Evaluating a Peer Review of Writing Exercise in a First-year Design Project Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24247

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