PEN has six different lenses. They serve as general areas that the reviewer will focus on as they go through the submission. You can select two in the submission process: a primary and secondary focus. Additionally, editors will focus on the content of the submission regardless of which lenses are selected.


  1. Grammar and Spelling

  2. MLA Formatting

  3. Fluency

  4. Organization

  5. Ideas

  6. General Overview

Grammar and Spelling

These are the nuts and bolts of a paper. Do the nouns and verbs agree? Is the author using proper punctuation? Are the words being used appropriately?

Common errors:

  • Subject-verb agreement

  • Spelling errors

  • Punctuation around quotations (most end-punctuation will go inside)

  • Capitalization

  • Consistency

  • Word tense agreement

  • Introducing the full name before an acronym or initialism

MLA Formatting

MLA is what most teachers ask students use when formatting an assignment. Purdue has a good resource on MLA.

Most teachers have different MLA standards, so it’s important that you confirm with them before following the PEN’s advice.

Common errors:

  • Font

    • Should be Times New Roman

    • Should be size 12

    • Should be double spaced (no additional spaces before or after)

  • Heading

    • Looks like this:

    • Full Name

    • Teacher Name

    • Class Title, Period #

    • Date the Paper is Due (written like: 18 March 2015)

    • Pagination in the upper right corner (written as: Lastname #)

  • Titles

    • Books and longer works should be italicized

    • Chapter titles, poems, etc. and shorter works should be “in quotes”

    • Assignment title should not have special formatting

      • UNLESS: Assignment title contains a book title (or other longer work) or a poem title (or other shorter work); those longer and shorter works should have their appropriate formatting whether in the assignment title or not

      • Assignment title should be centered

      • Works Cited title is always “Works Cited” and at the top of a new page

  • Quotations

    • End punctuation goes inside of quotes

    • Citation should come after every single usage of a quoted material (and paraphrased material)

      • Citation enclosed in parenthesis

      • Citation includes page number

      • Citation includes enough recognizable information to locate source in the Works Cited

    • Anything changed in a quotation (capitalization included) must be indicated by [brackets]

      • [sic] must be used after an error in a quotation to indicate the original writing contained the error

    • Quotations can “be chained” “together” (Mendon) to be more concise

      • “quotations… can use ellipses” to indicate cut out sections

    • Quotations do not need special introducing or end punctuation, but dialogue does

  • Works Cited

    • Read the Purdue’s MLA guide to craft a Works Cited

    • Should be doubled spaced and have a hanging indent on all entries


Fluency is composed of syntax and transitions, primarily. It guides the pace and meter of reading. A writer influences the fluency of the paper with their word choice, their punctuation, and the size of sentences and ideas.

Anything which detracts from the readability tends to be a fluency error.


  • Read the paper aloud; do the sentences fit together nicely?

  • Check for passive voice

  • Transitions

    • Does the author move seamlessly between ideas?

    • Do paragraphs have transitions between them? (more easily written into the topic sentence, usually)

    • Is evidence introduced with a transition?

  • Words

    • Is the wording clear and understandable?

    • Check for “purple prose” (sophisticated, flowery writing that doesn’t fit)


Organization judges the effectiveness of structure. Generally, an effectively organized assignment guides the reader from a broad idea to specific points. The points are cohesive and the argument follows a logical progression.

It tends to overlap with fluency. Structure is important to readability.

When reviewing, try this:

  • Follow the logical flow of their writing; does it make sense?

  • Do the ideas follow a progression that is easy to understand and follow?

  • Do they introduce ideas and conclude them?

  • Does the idea develop?


Ideas focus on the type of arguments presented and whether the evidence agrees with that argument. If there are strong ideas, the argument is properly supported with evidence.

Here’s a brief checklist for reviewers:

  • By reading the assignment, could you tell what the purpose was?

  • Does the purpose make sense?

  • Do they support their purpose with evidence?

  • Are the ideas engaging?

  • Do their ideas address the prompt?

  • Are their ideas related?

  • Are their ideas related to a broader topic?

General Overview

The reviewer will try to put down some comments about every aspect of writing. Since this is a broad category, the comments will be less detailed and more sparse.

Here are some thoughts for reviewers when reading:

  • Do they answer the prompt?

  • Are there any apparent grammar or spelling issues?

  • Are there any glaring issues with MLA?

  • Is the assignment understandable?

  • Is there a development of ideas?