Peer review reports

Peer review reports

Centre for English Language Communication
National University of Singapore

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ES1541 Exploring Science Communication through Popular Science Tutorial 5

Writing Peer Review Reports

Assignment 3: Two Peer Review Reports 10%
Write two peer review reports on the essay assignment for the two peers assigned to you. The review report should be written as a memo to your tutor and include a short summary of the arguments in the essay, a section devoted to major critiques, a section to minor critiques. You will also need to give a mark on the two essays you have commented on, based on the rubric provided to you. Each report should be around 150 words long.

Benefits of Peer Review

Many professionals find peer reviews of their work very useful as these suggest different perspectives and provide valuable feedback on what is compelling and what is problematic in a piece of writing. The most obvious benefit of peer review is that it provides you a wider audience, which offers you the opportunity to receive feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of your own writing, thereby helping you to improve your essay. However, reviewing your peer’s writing also helps you to

recognize the strengths and weaknesses of your own writing after reading and responding to another paper. learn to critically analyze your own writing and the writing of others develop a greater sense of and sensitivity to audience.

learn new information from your peers’ papers.
become familiarized with the format, style, criteria, and expectations of writing in the discipline studied

Because of these benefits for both the paper writer and his/her peer reviewers, conducting peer reviews and writing peer review reports have almost invariably been an essential part of the process writing pedagogy.

Writing a Critical Review

Format of the Review Assignment: Use of a Memorandum

“Memorandum” (or “Memo”) usually appears in bold letters either left- or center-justified at the top of the page. You can include the following information for the memo for your review report:

Subject: (or Re:)
Major critiques
Minor critiques

Purpose of a Critical Review
The critical review is a writing task that asks you to summarize and evaluate a text. Writing the critical review usually requires you to read the selected text in detail and probably to also read other related texts so that you can present a fair and reasonable evaluation of the selected text. What is meant by critical?

To be critical does not mean to criticize in a negative manner. Rather it requires you to question the information and opinions in a text and present your evaluation or judgment of the text. To do this well, you should attempt to understand the topic from different perspectives (i.e. read related texts). What is meant by evaluation or judgment?

Here you decide the strengths and weaknesses of a text. This is usually based on specific criteria (see our rubrics for marking essays and book reviews). Evaluating requires an understanding of not just the content of the text, but also an understanding of a text’s purpose, and why it is structured the way it is. Structure of a Critical Review

The introduction is usually a very small paragraph, which includes a few opening sentences that announce the author and the title, and briefly explain the topic of the text. Present the aim of the text and summarize the key argument. Conclude the introduction with a brief statement of your evaluation of the text. This can be a positive or negative evaluation or, as is usually the case, a mixed response. Summary

Present a brief summary of the key points along with a limited number of examples. You can also briefly explain the author’s purpose/intentions throughout the text and you may briefly describe how the text is organized. Major Critiques

The major critiques are directed to matters on content and organization. They should be a balanced discussion and evaluation of the strengths, weakness and notable features of the text. You can choose how to sequence your critique. Here are some examples to get you started: Most important to least important conclusions you make about the text. If your critique is more positive than negative, then present the negative points first and the positive last. If your critique is more negative than positive, then present the positive points first and the negative last. If there are both strengths and weakness, you need to decide overall what your judgment is. For example, you may want to comment on a key idea in the text and have both positive and negative comments. You could begin by stating what is good about the idea and then concede and explain how it is limited in some way. While this example shows a mixed evaluation, overall you are probably being more negative than positive. You can also include recommendations for how the text can be improved in terms of ideas and organization. Minor Critiques

The minor critiques are directed to matters on language use, including grammar, vocabulary, sentence level information flow, and mechanics. Conclusion
This is usually a very short paragraph.
Restate your overall opinion of the text.
Briefly present recommendations.
If necessary some further qualification or explanation of your judgment can be included. This can help your critique sound fair and reasonable. References
If you have used other sources in you review you should also include a list of references at the end of the review. Responding to Peer Review

Remember that you are responsible for your final draft so you should carefully weigh each comment you receive from a peer reviewer. You can choose whether or not to make a change in response to each comment, but note that multiple suggestions pointed at the same part of a paper typically indicates that revision is advisable.

TASK 1: Read the following peer review report written by a graduate student on a fellow graduate student’s literature review assignment. You do not need to understand everything in the report. Discuss in a group of three or four the following questions: 1. What is your general impression of this review report?

2. Does it conform well to the requirements discussed in this session? 3. What has he done well for the report?
4. What suggestions do you have to improve the report?

Date: March 3, 2012
Subject: Review of “Paper X” by Author Y

To: Professor XXX

From: Reviewer Z
Author Y presented a short review titled “Paper X”; a presentation of several formal analysis techniques to search for weaknesses in protected computing environment. The author focused on the most widely accepted proposal made by the Trusted Computing Group (TCG) and its implementation using a hardware chip called Trusted Platform Model (TCM) and software stack called Trusted Software Stack (TSS). Subsequently, an introduction was made to four formal methods developed to verify the TPM itself and related TPM-based systems. The work is fairly specialized with the expectation of the reader being fluent in the area of finite state machine, process algebra, logic programming. Summary

Through the guidelines set forth by the TCG, a separate hardware chip called TCM and software stack called TSS is created to implement a trusted computing environment. Through the use of TCM and TSS, a computer system can be made secured and trusted for its users and multiple computer systems secured by TCM and TSS can be linked together through a chain of trust to create a trustworthy environment. Like all complex systems, the difficulty in achieving a protected computing environment using TCG protocols is two-fold: One, is the framework proposed by TCG theoretically secure against all attacks? Several studies have already revealed a number of flaws and vulnerabilities in the TCG proposed model. Two, assuming the theory is sound, is the implementation correctly applied to secure a computer system? Given the complexity of TCM, vulnerabilities can be accidentally created through ignorance or incorrect usage. The author focused on four formal methods developed to verify the TPM itself and related TPM-based systems: Asynchronous Product Automata (APA) and Applied ??calculus Method to verify the security of the TPM and Communication Sequential Processes (CSP) Method and Horn-clause based Method for verifying TPM-based systems. The review of these four analysis methods serves as a primer for students with the necessary pre-requisites or for researchers in an allied field interested in the area of computing and network security. Major Critiques

The author is attempting to write for both general public and specialists in the field with the result being a significantly less impactful review for
either group. My overall suggestion is to simply pick ONE group and write for that group accordingly. The major question is “Who is the target audience?” From the material being presented in this review, the target audience are assumed to be people with the necessary pre-requisites in computing and security theory but in reality, both reviewers do not have the background knowledge which makes comments and suggestions on improvement impossible except in general linguistic and stylistic areas. There is obviously a very large gulf between the author’s view of the readers and the actual readers (Reviewers A and B). Suggestion one is for a shift in focus towards a general audience. Use the Introduction section as a skeleton and expand on areas listed below 1. Discussion on why computing and networking security is important 2. What are the common vulnerabilities in typical commodity hardware, software and OS’s 3. What are the general areas that the TCG proposal is targeting to protect and secure 4. What are other proposals dealing with this issue and why TCG more commonly accepted 5. Why is this problem of trusted computing complex requiring formal analysis rather than manual testing based technologies 6. A brief overview of the methods and tools available to researchers to tackle this problem. I suggest the author avoid the in-depth analysis of each formal method as it assumes knowledge of the theory and technical terms and jargons associated with each method. If the author insists on presenting the methods in any depth, I will have to insist it be presented in such a way as to assume no prior knowledge in this field in the part of the reader. Suggestion two is for the author to go in the other direction and assume the audience are specialists in the trust computing field; more specialization and detailed survey into ONE of the trusted computing areas rather than in the two areas the author wrote. Choose either analysis of TPM security OR analysis of TPM-based protocols and systems and drill into the details. I suggest a detailed comparative analysis on the strengths and weaknesses of two methods with the writing aimed specifically for researchers in the trust computing field. Minor Critiques

Depending on which of the major critique suggestion the author decides to take, some of the following suggestions and changes may not be relevant. Avoid vague language; example is the sentence from line 6-8 “… proposed
and discussed in the computing literature since several years ago.” “(S)everal years ago” is very vague as the reader do not have a reference point to your timeline. Another example is the sentence from line 14-15 “… as well as a shielded and untainted storage for sensitive data.” What are the properties of shielded and untainted storage from the point of view of trusted computing? Your definition may well be very different than mine. Try to be as specific as possible in your language and avoid assuming the reader knows what you know already. Be sure to define your abbreviations first before using them; there are a number of abbreviations in the review that were not defined such as API, SHVT, PC, PCR, FDR and BIOS. Avoid the use of “filler” words and tighten up your sentences so the information content of each sentence is dense and precise. An example is p3 paragraph 2; compare my version below versus your version. “While APA method is theoretically effective in security analysis, the method is rarely used due to its inability to deal with system-protocol interactions. Since interactions are ubiquitous in current protocols and systems, APA’s lack of interaction notations is a great weakness limiting the method’s adoption in security verification. Figure 2 and 3 are more confusing than informative for your explanations to the reader; either define within the figure or text what each term in the code means and how they chain together to execute the desired command or use a simpler figure to explain the concepts you are showing. Please ensure your references are in accordance to the guidelines in the following link Conclusion

A good first effort by the author to present a survey of current methods in use to verify the security measures implemented in trust computing systems. Overall, I believe the author will need to make a definitive choice as to who he is writing this review for: is it for the general public or for specialists in his field of research. Everything else will flow from that choice. Stylistically, the author will need to tighten up his sentence structure and increase the information content of each sentence; publication in any journal has word count limit and unlike class assignments, the word count is upper limit. Writing in a concise informative way will enable the author to present in much greater depth or brevity depending on publication
requirements. My final piece of advice to the author is to get involved in the publication process whether he has authorship in the manuscript or not; the point is to learn about the publication process and experience the pitfalls, obstacles and work involved in publication from submission to revision to copy-editing to final acceptance. There are numerous small lessons in the publication process that cannot be taught in a classroom but can only be experienced through working through the process itself. I highly recommend the author to get involved in publication as soon as he can and to keep writing and polishing to find his style of scientific writing. Good luck.

TASK 2: Read the first three paragraphs of three student essays on the following prompt: How useful is James Watson’s The Double Helix as a document for giving us insight into the development of molecular biology (or insight into scientific process in general in the early 1950s)? Evaluate the three essays in terms of their content, organization and language.

Essay 1

James D. Watson’s The Double Helix presents a scientifically important historical event – the discovery of the structure of DNA – as a personal account, and does not claim under false pretense to describe or outline the scientific method, rather it is a chronicle of the way in which James Watson and Francis Crick tackled the issue. Watson goes so far as to include a sort of disclaimer, saying that it presents “[his] vision of how the structure of DNA was discovered.” (Watson, 3) I hesitate to believe that there is anyone entirely correct view of the events leading to this monumental discovery; instead I think that each individual involved will have his or her own unique perspective. The biases become apparent in the telling of the story, which may or may not accurately represent exactly what transpired, but may instead distort these facts in order to fit a more personal view, influenced by individual prejudices and dispositions. In my opinion, the general conception of the scientific method arises from the presentation, not in the implementation. In other words, the presentation, in the form of a scientific paper, may not accurately represent the techniques used but may
instead distort the facts in order to fit a more commonly accepted notion of how science is performed. In the words of P.B. Medawar: “Is the scientific paper fraudulent? Yes: it misrepresents scientific thought.” (Medawar 42) Watson and Crick’s paper, as it appeared in Nature, deviated significantly from the account given in The Double Helix. The article submitted to Nature contrasts rather sharply with Watson’s personal account of the events leading to the discovery of the structure of DNA (Watson, 237-241). The paper implies an order of events different from that in Watson’s memoir, in that it portrays a nearly linear thought pattern, moving logically from step to step. We find this to be grossly incorrect upon reading The Double Helix, in which we learn of the true, non-linear progression of ideas flowing through Watson and Crick’s minds. At one point Watson is having trouble falling asleep, and consequently his lively mind comes up with the idea that proteins are synthesized from RNA, which is in turn fabricated directly from DNA (Watson 89).

Essay 2

The documentation of scientific discovery has a profound effect on current developments, and can have an immeasurable influence on scientists (Sayre, 108).Therefore, it is crucial for scientists to be accurate, truthful, and objective when reporting their findings to the scientific community and the public. Unfortunately, scientific research and experimentation does not make for the most interesting reading, and increasing the accuracy of a report does little to increase its readability. The Double Helix, James D. Watson’s personal account of the discovery of the structure of DNA, is an exception to the bland, impersonal recordings most are accustomed to. Watson makes his story interesting to the reader while reporting the famous discovery he and Francis Crick made. The Double Helix is, in comparison to other scientific reports of discoveries, a colorful and entertaining read. Alone, however, it is not sufficient to provide accurate insight into the development of molecular biology and the scientific process during the early 1950’s. James Watson greatly increased the readability of The Double Helix by adding personal stories, jokes, and opinions among the scientific information pertaining to DNA. Although the focus of the book is his monumental
discovery, he devotes a large portion of it to recalling social outings, relationships between the main characters involved in the discovery, and his own feelings about his work and those he worked with. Watson’s unique narration gives the reader a better understanding for the personal aspect of science. It exposes the reader to not only the actions of one of the most famous scientists of our time, but his thoughts as well. These thoughts help to explain the process by which Watson went about his work; they not only tell what he did, but why he did it. The personal relationships among Watson, Crick, Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin, and the others involved in the discovery of the structure of the DNA, are entertaining to read about and help to spice up the book. More importantly, however, they also help to explain why the discovery took the course that it did. Had these relations been different – had Watson and Crick encountered personality conflict while Franklin and Wilkins got along beautifully, for example – the story of DNA which we are familiar with might have been considerably altered. Anne Sayre certainly believes this, and she states in Rosalind Franklin and DNA that “it is very possible that the history of molecular biology might be rather different from what it is today if Rosalind and Maurice Wilkins had not hated one another at sight,” (95). The interpersonal aspect of scientific research cannot be ignored by those interested in the true history and nature of research. While most other scientific reports overlook this aspect, Watson’s book emphasizes it.

Essay 3

If you read the Double Helix by James Watson for amusement and to learn a personal view of the discovery of the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), you will not be disappointed. If you are looking for a book that can serve as an accurate historical account of the discovery, you need to put this book back on the shelf. I must warn that while this book is entertaining due to its light hearted approach and personal nature, the mocking of characters and drunken stories included in this account do not present a true picture of the history of molecular biology. The Double Helix is not a valuable piece of historical evidence because it presents an inaccurate picture of events surrounding the discovery of the structure of
DNA, and it presents a scientific process which could be detrimental to science. When reading the Double Helix, you learn early in the story that Watson openly dislikes Rosalind Franklin. Scientists are humans and are allowed to dislike one another, but when writing a historical account, one needs to be impartial enough to accurately describe the contributions and the role of the other people involved. This is where Watson fails. He allows his personal feelings to interfere with the scientific aspect, and creates a picture of Rosalind Franklin that is completely unrepresentative of her actual role in the discovery of the double helical structure of DNA. Rosalind Franklin was one of the top x-ray crystallographers of the time when she went to work with Crick. Nevertheless, Watson treats her as a second rate scientist simply because he and Rosalind did not get along. An example of the lack of respect Watson had for Rosalind Franklin is the name by which he refers to her in The Double Helix. Scientists are generally addressed by their last names (or at least first names) in this account, all except for Rosalind Franklin. Instead of treating her as he treats other scientists, Watson refuses to call her Franklin or Rosalind, but rather by the childish nickname of “Rosy”. When reading this book, you must make a conscious effort to remember that this is an immature game Watson is playing. There is no legitimate reason to call her “Rosy”, because even her friends did not refer to her by this name. This is Watson’s effort to convince the reader of Franklin’s inferiority, so that we might agree with his opinion of her.

TASK 3: In a group of three or four, brainstorm ideas for the forthcoming essay assignment. Rotate with members of another group to get more ideas for the essay assignment. Share the ideas you collected with the rest of the class.


Greene, S. (2001). The question of authenticity: Teaching writing in a first-year college history of science class. Research in the Teaching of English, 35(4): 525-569. Reid, J. M. (2000). The process of composition (3rd ed.). White Plains, NY: Prentice-Hall Regent. Mort, P., Hallion, L., &
Downey, T.L. (2005). Writing a critical review. The University of New South Wales: The Learning Centre. Accessed on 5 August 2013 from


1. Read “Statistics in the courtroom: United States v. Kristen Gilbert” in Statistics: A guide to the unknown. Take notes and start drafting a 100-150 word summary of the chapter. 2. Collect one or two articles (from online, newspaper, or academic sources) related to the topics of the chapter. Note down the source of the articles you have collected. 3. Write an outline for your essay assignment. You are to bring this outline to class for a six-minute one-to-one consultation with your tutor in the next tutorial.

Appendix A: Rubric for marking peer review reports

You are to write two peer review reports on two fellow students’ essay assignments. Each of your peer review reports carries 5% of the total marks for the entire course and will be marked on a 10-point scale based on the following rubric:

Rubric for marking peer review reports
excellent summary of the main points of the essay; very critical and constructive comments on content and organization; very specific and detailed comments on language use; demonstration of excellent command of language use 7-8

good summary of the main points of the essay; critical and constructive comments on content and organization; specific and detailed comments on language use; demonstration of good command of language use 5-6

fairly good summary of the main points of the essay; some critical and
constructive comments on content and organization; some specific and detailed comments on language use; demonstration of fairly good command of language use 3-4

poor summary of the main points of the essay; very few critical and constructive comments on content and organization; very few specific and detailed comments on language use; demonstration of poor command of language use 1-2

very poor summary of the main points of the essay; lack of critical and constructive comments on content and organization; lack of specific and detailed comments on language use; demonstration of very poor command of language use Comments:

Total Mark:

Appendix B: Template for writing the peer review report

To: Name of your tutor
From: Your name
This is the introduction of my peer review report. This is the introduction of my peer review report. This is the introduction of my peer review report. Summary
This is the summary section of my peer review report. This is the summary section of my peer review report. This is the summary section of my peer review report. Major critiques
This is the major critique section of my peer review report. This is the major critique section of my peer review report. This is the major critique section of my peer review report. This is the major critique section of my peer review report. This is the major critique section of my peer review report. Minor Critiques

This is the minor critique section of my peer review report. This is the minor critique section of my peer review report. This is the minor critique section of my peer review report. This is the minor critique section of my peer review report. This is the minor critique section of my peer review report. Conclusion

This is the conclusion of my peer review report. This is the conclusion of my peer review report. This is the conclusion of my peer review report. This is the conclusion of my peer review report. (Word Count)

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