University of Wisconsin–Madison

Zoology 957 Writing Assignments and Peer Review



1. Research paper.  An important goal of this course is to teach you to examine and evaluate current literature on evo-devo critically. As a starting point, you will assume the role of an author and write a minimum 5 page (1-1.5 line spacing) research paper. Your paper will consist of one of the following:

(1) Design a research proposal to test a hypothesis (a “what-should-be-done-next” paper).


(2) Review a major theme in animal evo-devo, where you take a stand on a particular issue.

also acceptable (and highly encouraged):

(3) Develop a thesis chapter, manuscript, or preliminary/qualifying exam proposal (if your research pertains to evolution, development, or both).

Regardless of your topic, your writing assignment will include at least one figure of your own design. Your figure can serve various purposes, such as illustrating current understanding of a topic or depicting the design of hypothetical experiments.

Due dates:

Declare topics, 20 October 2017

First draft: 10 November 2017

2. Peer review. Another aim of this course is to introduce you to the peer review process and/or refine your capabilities as a peer reviewer. You will exchange your draft with another graduate student. As a peer reviewer, you will write a maximum 2 page (1-1.5 line spacing) critique of your peer’s research paper, focusing on major issues and providing constructive feedback for improving the draft. The exercise is double blinded.

Due dates: Peer review, 17 November 2017

3. Revision and rebuttal. After reading over the review of your paper, you will prepare two items for submission:

(1) The final draft of your paper.


(2) A Responses to Reviewers document. This document (maximum 2 page, 1-1.5 line spacing) should be formatted as a letter to the Editor, providing a point-by-point explanation of how reviewer comments were addressed, incorporated, and/or rebutted. Rebuttals should be substantiated by reasoned arguments and/or references to the literature.

Due dates:

Final draft, 8 December 2017

Responses to reviewers, 8 December 2017


Evaluations of writing assignments

Writing assignments will be evaluated according to the six criteria. For each criterion, the assignment will be scored from 1 to 3, with 3 being the highest score. Criteria and explanations of the scores follow.

Clarity. Is the writing sufficiently clear to convey its meaning to a general reader? Are concepts and hypotheses well explained?

Rank 1. Written ideas are not clearly conveyed in multiple sections; abbreviations are not explained; either overly technical or insufficiently precise writing

Rank 2. Written ideas are conveyed well, with few unclear aspects; reviewers will understand the broad meaning of the work, but will be left with some requests for clarification.

Rank 3. Consummately clear writing that is interpretable by non-expert reviewers; complex concepts are methodically deconstructed; results and/or proposed experiments are immediately lucid.

Organization. Does the writing demonstrate a solid logical structure? For a research paper, are sections clearly delimited for (a) abstract, (b) background, (c) methods, (d) results, and (e) discussion? For a research proposal, are sections clearly delimited for (a) objectives, (b) rationale and significance, (c) hypotheses, and (d) research approach?

Rank 1. Writing bears structural deficiencies; thoughts are incorrectly grouped in inappropriate sections of the paper; one or more sections are missing or highly underdeveloped.

Rank 2. All sections are present and adequately developed; some ideas appear in unorthodox order that diminishes the cogency of the work, but these comprise a handful of exceptions.

Rank 3. Every section is strongly developed; all higher concepts or hypotheses appear in a logical order, with downstream analyses/proposed experiments supporting the broader theme.

Use of literature. Are postulates appropriately supported by literature citations? Do citations follow a consistent format? Are all key studies germane to the topic included in the references list?

Rank 1. Writing is missing key references or incorrectly summarizes cited works; multiple postulates lacking citations; inconsistent citation format mixes footnotes and endnotes, to adverse effect.

Rank 2. Most of the relevant literature is appropriately cited; only a handful of missing references limits the completeness of the literature review.

Rank 3. Writing demonstrates masterful command of the literature; all citations follow a consistent format.

Cohesion. Is the entire work connected by a unifying set of ideas? Does the discussion/research approach address the original hypotheses?

Rank 1. Ideas are disconnected or fragmented across the paper; the end of the work does not connect with its premise; various ideas critical to the theme/purpose of the work end abruptly and are left incomplete.

Rank 2. Writing is broadly connective, but contains some loose ends; some ideas are extraneous to the theme/purpose of the work, but this could be remedied by their deletion.

Rank 3. A seamless work interconnected by its central ideas/theme/purpose; writing is focused and on target at all times.

Conciseness and orthography. Are space limits used effectively for each section? Does word choice and use of the discipline’s terminology serve to reduce wordiness and parenthetical explanations?

Rank 1. Writing is very much under length, with allotted space not used to fullest extent or Writing is wordy and substitutes detail and summary spams for original analysis and contributions; various spelling and formatting errors that would outright disqualify the work from a journal or grant cycle submission.

Rank 2. Writing is generally concise, but suffers from occasional word choice and orthography issues; a few terminological errors are present.

Rank 3. Flawless writing demonstrates mastery of the discipline’s terminology and standards; orthography and syntax are unquestionable; page limits and space are used to their fullest extent.

Illustration. Does the figure clearly convey the ideas intended by its author? Is the figure interpretable by nonspecialists of the discipline? Does the figure legend address all the components of what is shown?

Rank 1. Illustration is unclear or incorrectly tied to the writing; no figure legend present.

Rank 2. Illustration is present, but requires some work to interpret; figure legend by itself is insufficient to understand the illustration.

Rank 3. A self-explanatory image that both supports the writing’s purpose and serves to make the writing more concise; legend is complete and detailed.


Evaluations of peer reviews

Peer reviews are graded according to two criteria. For each criterion, the assignment will be scored from 1 to 3, with 3 being the highest score. Criteria and explanations of the scores follow.

Critical thinking. Does the review assess all key elements of the work? Does the review provide a rigorous test of the written ideas?

Rank 1. Review is superficial or Review focuses exclusively on trivial elements of the writing (e.g., orthography; syntax; illustration color choice); most elements of the work are not assessed or are given the benefit of the doubt; reviewer incorrectly evaluates some of the work’s logical bridges or procedures.

Rank 2. Review assesses some sections, but leaves one or more sections of the paper unassessed; reviewer tests some ideas.

Rank 3. Review rigorously examines each element of the paper; scrutiny of the review provides some new perspective and/or ideas to the author.

Constructive criticism. Is the reviewer fair? Does the reviewer offer solutions to conceptual problems that s/he raises?

Rank 1. Reviewer is unduly critical in an unhelpful way; criticisms imposed by the reviewer have no reasonable solution or are irrelevant.

Rank 2. Reviewer is generally fair, but occasionally strays into unhelpful criticism (e.g., writing style or subjective comments).

Rank 3. Reviewer is professional, balanced, considerate, and helpful in all criticisms; reviewer provides potential solutions to their concerns that the author can explore in their revision.

Evaluations of responses to reviewers

Responses to reviewers are graded according to two criteria. For each criterion, the assignment will be scored from 1 to 3, with 3 being the highest score. Criteria and explanations of the scores follow.

Rebuttals. In cases where the author did not accept recommendations of the reviewers, are rebuttals to the reviewer effective and on target? Is the rebuttal convincing?

Rank 1. Rebuttals are ineffective or unwarranted; rebuttals are excuses, not justified reasons for retaining the status quo; arguments take on a personal or offended tone.

Rank 2. Rebuttals are generally effective; a handful of arguments are unwarranted and could have been better addressed through revision.

Rank 3. Rebuttals have the cogency of a practiced career diplomat; arguments are professionally delivered and wholly convincing.

Revisions. In cases where the author accepted recommendations of the reviewers, do the changes made by the author address the criticism effectively?

Rank 1. Revisions are superficial or miss the point of the reviewer’s recommendation; original criticism still applies post-revision.

Rank 2. Revisions are somewhat effective; reviewer’s recommendations are mostly met. 

Rank 3. Revisions are seamlessly integrated into the original draft, whereby the final draft is considerably improved.