5 Tips for Giving Constructive Criticism
So you’ve been asked to critique someone’s work- congratulations! But where do you start? How can you make sure your advice is taken the right way? What if you don’t know how to phrase your suggestions? Fear not! Below is a magical formula I devised to help my students give constructive criticism in class:
I like/don’t like ______ because ______. If advising a change, phrase it as a suggestion: Could you try ______? Maybe consider ______. You could add______.
There’s your framework. As you write your critique, keep the following in mind:
1. Be specific. Vague statements like “this is good” or “this is awkward” aren’t helpful. Try to pinpoint exactly what you like or don’t like and why. Ex: “This paragraph flows really well” or “The dialogue seems awkward on this page because it feels out of character.”
2. Say exactly where something is or is not working. Sometimes you may not be able to get more specific than “at the beginning” or “the middle of the story.” But if you can, be as clear as possible when you’re referring to where something is in the story. Page numbers are great. Paragraph and line numbers will make you a critiquing hero.
3. Balance advice with praise. Even if the manuscript you’re critiquing is awful, it doesn’t help the writer to tear their confidence down with a constant barrage of what they’re doing wrong. Try to temper your suggestions with examples of what they’re doing well. “In page 57, I love how the characters interact with each other! I’m having trouble picturing the scene, though. Consider adding more detail.”
4. Remember the “why.” So much of writing is subjective. If you notice typos or mechanical errors, that’s one thing, but what if you just don’t like the style? If you explain your reasoning, the author will be able to make a better decision about following your advice. Ex: “I know you prefer to use shorter sentences during action scenes, but page 88 feels very choppy and broke up the rhythm of the scene. Some longer sentences might help it flow better.”
5. Imagine yourself receiving the same advice. Would it help? Would it leave you wondering, “Okay, but how??” Writing is incredibly personal; letting someone read your work is like baring your soul to the world. It’s terrifying. Be as gentle as you can.
Remember, your job as the critiquer is not to rewrite the material; you’re only giving suggestions. The creator of the work has final say over any changes, and disregarding one or more of your suggestions doesn’t necessarily reflect on you.
What guidelines do you use for giving constructive criticism? Leave your thoughts in the comments!