Reaction, Description, Prescription: A Three-Step Guideline for Commenting on Someone Else’s Writing

Purple notebook pages with writing

I once took a writing class with screenwriter Claudia Forestieri—who has gone onto great success in Hollywood and whose then-in-progress TV series, The Gordita Chronicles—has now been picked up by HBO! Claudia broke the peer editing process down into three parts, and I’ve been using a version of this system with my own students ever since.

Three part peer-editing process: Reaction. Description. Prescription.


Go through the steps below for the first 17 minutes of the 20-minute feedback session. There are recommended time limits for each section, but you will probably find the steps naturally fade naturally into one another. Try to spend more than half the time on the “prescription” step for each piece. The writer of the original piece should take notes, but should avoid saying anything during this time.

Three Parts

Reaction (Recommended time: 3 minutes or less)

Start by offering your “gut” reaction to the piece. Here is where you give adjectives and compliments. You don’t have to be specific. Try to keep it positive and short.

Examples of reaction comments:

“This was funny.”
“This made me remember something in my childhood.”
“Your style reminds me of author X.”

As you can see, these are quick, positive comments. They’re nice for the author to hear, especially because they’ll be getting some criticism later in the process. You don’t want to stop here, however, because it’s rare that the author gets anything he or she can use from these comments.

Description (Recommended time: 5 minutes or less)

This is where you show that you get what the writer is aiming for in his or her piece.

Examples of description comments:

“I like how you are trying to show that the breakup is both people’s fault in different ways.”
“Using the format of a movie review really makes the point that ____.”
“The funniest thing about this was ____.”
“The inciting incident  of the story seems to be___.”

As you can see, these are more technical comments. They focus on specific choices the author made. They are generally positive, but if the author feels misunderstood during the description process, it may be a sign that the writing isn’t as clear as he or she wants it to be.

Prescription (10 minutes)

This is where you give suggestions to help the writer achieve his or her goal.

Examples of prescription comments

“If you are trying to show that the breakup is both people’s fault, you may want to go into just as much detail when the woman apologizes as when the man apologizes.”
“Since you seem to be using format of a movie, you might want to emphasize it even more. Maybe you can mention a soundtrack, or add a 2-thumbs-up rating at the end.”

Then, at the 17-minute mark, it’s the writer’s turn to talk.

After 17-minutes, the writer of the original piece can ask follow up questions, make clarifying comments, or ask for feedback on a specific aspect of the work that was not addressed. At the 20-minute mark, move onto the next piece so everyone gets equal time.

14 Years of Building a Writing Career in 14 Days of Emails

14 Years of Building a Writing Career in 14 Days of Emails

Two weeks of daily emails. Part creative writing crash course, part mobile-friendly memoir about building a career as an author.