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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Grading Someone Else's Paper

The purpose of this guide is to provide advice on how to develop and organize a research paper in the social sciences.


The act of grading someone else's paper [a.k.a., student peer grading, peer assessment; peer evaluation; self-regulated learning] is a cooperative learning technique that refers to activities conducted either inside or outside of the classroom whereby students review, evaluate, and, in some cases, actually recommend grades on the quality of their peer's work. Peer grading is usually guided by a rubric developed by the instructor. A rubric is a performance-based assessment that uses specific criteria as a basis for evaluation. An effective rubric makes grading more clear, consistent, and equitable.

Newton, Fred B. and Steven C. Ender. Students Helping Students: A Guide for Peer Educators on College Campuses. 2nd edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010.

The Benefits of Peer Grading

Professors assign students to grade the work of their classmates based on findings in educational research that suggests the act of grading someone else's paper increases positive learning outcomes for students. Professors use peer grading as a way for students to practice recognizing quality research, with the hope that this will carry over to their own work, and as an aid to improving group performance or determining individual effort on team projects. Grading someone else's paper can also enhance learning outcomes by empowering students to take ownership over the selection of criteria used to evaluate the work of peers [the rubric]. Finally, professors may assign peer grading as a way to engage students in the act of seeing themselves as members of a community of researchers.

Other potential benefits include:

  1. Increasing the amount of feedback students receive about their work;
  2. Encouraging students to be actively involved with, and to take responsibility for, their own learning;
  3. Providing an opportunity for reinforcing essential skills that can be used in professional life, such as, being able to effectively assess the work of others and to become comfortable with having one's own work evaluated by others;
  4. Fostering a more in-depth and comprehensive process for understanding and analyzing a research problem through repetition and reinforcement of key criteria essential to learning a task;
  5. Providing motivation for improvement in course assignments and a more comprehensive perspective on learning; and,
  6. Using the process of grading as a model for the internal self-assessment of your own learning [at a higher cognitive level, this is known as reflexivity, or, the process of understanding one's own contribution to the construction of meaning throughout the research process].

Boud, David, Ruth Chen, and Jane Sampson. "Peer Learning and Assessment." Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 24 (1999): 413-426; Dochy, Filip et al. "The Use of Self-, Peer, and Co-Assessment in Higher Education: A Review." Studies in Higher Education 24 (1999): 331-350; Falchikov, Nancy. Improving Assessment through Student Involvement: Practical Solutions for Aiding Learning in Higher and Further Education. New York: Routledge/Falmer, 2005; Ryan, Mary Elizabeth, editor. Teaching Reflective Learning in Higher Education: A Systematic Approach using Pedagogic Patterns. New York: Springer, 2014; Sadler, Philip M. and Eddie Good. "The Impact of Self- and Peer-Grading on Student Learning." Educational Assessment 11 (2006): 1-31;Topping, Keith J. “Peer Assessment.” Theory Into Practice 48 (2009): 20-27.

How to Approach Peer Grading Assignments

I. Best Practices

Best practices in peer assessment vary depending on the type of assignment or group project being evaluated, the quality of the rubric guiding what you are to evaluate, and the course you are taking. The process can be intimidating but know that everyone probably feels the same way you do when first informed you will be grading the work of others--cautious and uncomfortable!

Given this, the following questions should be answered by your professor before beginning:

  • Exactly who [which students] will be evaluated and by whom?
  • What does the evaluation include? What parts are not to be evaluated?
  • At what point during a group project or the assignment will the evaluation be done?
  • What learning outcomes are expected from this exercise?
  • How will their peers’ evaluation affect everyone's grades?

II.  Things to Consider

When informed that you will be assessing the work of others, consider the following:

  1. Carefully read the rubric given to you by the professor. If he/she hasn't distributed a rubric to everyone, be sure to clarify what guidelines or rules you are to follow and specifically what parts of the assignment or group project are to be evaluated. If you are asked to help develop a rubric, ask to see examples. They can vary considerably and it is helpful to have a sense of what your professor is looking for.
  2. Consider how your assessment should be reported. Is it simply a rating [i.e., rate 1-5 the quality of work], are points given for each item graded [i.e., 0-20 points], are you expected to write a brief synopsis of your assessment, or is it any combination of these approaches? If you are asked to write an evaluation, be succient and avoid subjective modifiers. Cite specific examples whenever possible.
  3. Clarify how you will receive feedback from your professor regarding how effectively you assessed the work of your peers. Take advantage of receiving this feedback to also discuss how the rubric could be improved or whether the process of completing the assignment or group project was enhanced using peer grading methods.

Hodgsona, Yvonne, Robyn Benson, and Charlotte Brack. “Student Conceptions of Peer-Assisted Learning.” Journal of Further and Higher Education 39 (2015): 579-597; Getting Feedback. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Gueldenzoph, Lisa E. and Gary L. May. “Collaborative Peer Evaluation: Best Practices for Group Member Assessments.” Business and Professional Communication Quarterly 65 (March 2002): 9-20; Lladó, Anna Planas et al. “Student Perceptions of Peer Assessment: An Interdisciplinary Study.” Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 39 (2014): 592-610; Froyd, Jeffrey. Peer Assessment and Peer Evaluation. The Foundation Coalition; Newton, Fred B. and Steven C. Ender. Students Helping Students: A Guide for Peer Educators on College Campuses. 2nd edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010; Liu, Ngar-Fun and David Carless. “Peer Feedback: The Learning Element of Peer Assessment.” Teaching in Higher Education 11 (2006): 279-290; Peer Review. Psychology Writing Center. Department of Psychology. University of Washington; Revision: Peer Editing--Serving As a Reader. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Peer Review.  Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Suñola, Joan Josep et al. “Peer and Self-Assessment Applied to Oral Presentations from a Multidisciplinary Perspective.” Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 41 (2016): 622-637.