Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Paper Review Guidelines

Here are some guidelines to help you give good feedback:

- The introduction should be clear and to the point. It should make clear what the thesis of the paper is and it should say what the paper is going to do.

- Typically, the first section after the introduction will be an explanation of the view in the target paper. The explanation of the view should be clear; if there's something about the view your peer is focusing on that does not make sense to you, say so! The explanation of the target view should make sense to someone at your level in philosophy who has not read the target paper and is not in our class. So, for instance, you don't need to explain what 'valid' means but you should take time to explain key technical terms or ideas that are not common currency in philosophy.

- The paper should contain an argument that your peer has extracted from the target paper. It should be the main argument your peer is focusing on. It should be presented in numbered premise-conclusion form and it should be valid. It should not just come out of nowhere. A good way to set up an extracted argument is to informally explain the "gist" of the argument in the target paper and say "we can set out/present/state the argument more clearly as follows:

1. Premise
2. Premise
3. Conclusion"

It should be completely clear why there is a numbered list in your paper and what that numbered list is supposed to be.

- The paper should explain and defend the premises in the extracted argument. Spend time saying a bit in favour of the premises of the argument and make sure to define any technical terms. What you're trying to do here is to get the reader to see what can be said on behalf of the premises in the argument you'll criticize. As always, be explicit about what you're doing. Don't just launch into reasons for accepting the premises; tell the reader what you're doing and be explicit about which premises you're discussing.

- The paper should present an objection in numbered premise-conclusion form. The objection must be valid and it must deny a premise in the first argument. The argument should not just be "dropped into" the paper. Introduce your argument. You can follow the strategy of informally explaining your idea and presenting it more formally as a valid objection.

- The objection should be explained/defended. Same as for the original argument.

- The paper should consider a reply to the objection. Which premise in the objection might the author of the target paper reject and why? Be specific about which premise in the objection is being called into question. (Hint: This is easier to do if you don't use the same numbers for the premises in your extracted argument and your objection. So don't start both with '1', for instance.)

- The paper should contain an overall evaluation. Is the objection sound? Why or why not?

Throughout, assume that the reader is lazy, mean, and stupid. Lazy: The reader does not want to have to think. You do the thinking and spell it all out in your paper. Don't make the reader have to work. Mean: If what you write can be taken in more than one way, assume that the reader will take it in the least charitable way. Correct for this by avoiding any looseness and disambiguating important ambiguities. Stupid: Your reader will not "get" what you are saying. Spell it out in detail.

Remember, your job as peer reviewer is to help your peer improve her/his paper. So don't be shy about saying that you didn't understand something, that there's a gap in the reasoning, that a better defence can be provided for a particular premise, etc. As always you should be polite and respectful, but you're not doing your peer any favors if you just say everything is fine as is. As with the previous reviews, you're strongly encouraged to talk to each other about the paper. After all, that's the fun part: discussing an interesting philosophical issue with someone smart. So have fun with it and make sure to give your peer as much help as you can.

No comments: