PEER is a writing framework I developed to help my clients understand structure. It’s the single most useful framework for most writers because it can be adapted to any single point piece of writing. It stands for Point, Explain, Evidence, Review.
Use Cases: blog posts, individual articles or book chapters, pitch letters, press releases, essays, general teaching tools under 3000 words, simple analysis under 2000 words.
Rather than focussing on all the discrete pieces of an idea, PEER makes your life easier by helping you work out what you’re trying to say before you start writing. Working this way means you:
- stay on topic
- keep your explanations concise
- provide concrete evidence without waffle or chunks of irrelevant text
- write a clear and concise summary of your main point
If you already have your content but feel like it’s wandering or waffling, PEER will help you bring structure to your work. To do this, run through your piece with a pencil and mark only the pieces directly relevant to each of the pieces described below. Be ruthless. If it doesn’t fit into the percentages I’ve listed, go back again, and cut more. Pay attention to extraneous facts or doubled up evidence.
Point: What’s your big idea?
This is the reason you’re writing. You should be able to state your point in a single sentence or tweet. If you can’t drill down to a single line summary, then you probably have too many ideas in your piece. Invest time in working out exactly what you want your reader to know. You can do this by asking questions such as What does the reader need to know? Why does my reader care? If I had only sixty seconds to explain this, what would I say first? If you’re really stuck, write down keywords, and build your single sentence summary out from there. Once you’re done, write out your point grafs. There’s no exact word count to this, but the Point in your piece should be no more than 20% of the total. If your point is less than 5% of the total, chances are you haven’t established properly, so make a note and come back to it at the end.
Explain: Why is your point important?
Here’s where you get to delve into your idea more and get into the why/what/how. What’s your key concept? Why does it matter? How are you going to help your receiver?
Explaining your major point should take around 25–30% of your total. Use language suitable to your audience, and make sure you’ve clearly defined any new terms or acronyms. Expand on why your point matters, and how you’re going to prove it. Use this space to ground your reader in the topic.
Evidence: Proving your point
Evidence, evidence, evidence! When you write, you need to be able to back up your words. In non-fiction, this could mean statistics, charts, or quotes from appropriate sources. You’ve grounded your reader, explained why they should care about your point, and now you have to show them you’re worth your proverbial salt. Do not just state evidence, then sit back and relax. Evidence without context or some analysis is a waste of time. Tie your evidence back to your Point and Explanation. Ideally, you can walk your receiver through your why/what/how with real data. If you can’t write a because statement, like “this evidence shows that X because of Y”, you have a problem. Work out what your evidence is saying, how it supports your Point and Explanation, then try again.
Evidence should make up around 30% of your total. In some cases, this figure might run as high as 40% of the total count. Do not let evidence overrun your piece. Evidence is part of a greater whole, and it is possible to have too much.
Review: Ensure your receiver understands your main point
Recap your Point and how you’ve addressed it. Think about the takeaways in your piece. Did you successfully teach a concept? Did you show how you worked through from your question to your answer? Your Review should be around 10–15% of your article total, unless you’ve written an analysis-heavy piece. If you’ve spent a lot of time digging into your evidence, the review should reflect the major takeaways, and comprise around 20% of the total.
Some folks like to write a basic single line frame with PEER, defining four sentences and then building out from there. When I use it in high school English classrooms, I have students write questions around the steps, then answer them. Clients who know their topic well and are looking for a better way to structure their thoughts often write each graf in sequence, then go back and check they’ve adhered to the structure to keep their writing tight and focussed. Do whatever works for you. PEER doesn’t replace your knowledge, or provide you with new knowledge. Writing frameworks are about expression, about bringing structure to your thoughts. PEER helps you:
- express what you know
- express what you have
- state what you want
- or some combination of all three.
You can also use PEER as a secondary framework in larger pieces (which we’ll discuss next time). Remember, whatever the content, if you can drill down to a single point, you can use PEER.