How to Give Constructive Criticism by Grace
February-March are the months of workshops in the club, so I believe it’s crucial to address the art of offering feedback! It’s important writers not only know how to receive feedback and apply it, but to know how to give feedback in genera. Whether it’s a poem, short story, chapter, narrative, article: feedback is what helps us improve! In my opinion, giving feedback shapes us as better writers because the concepts you focus on will aid you further in analyzing your own pieces during the editing process. However, reviewing your own piece and reviewing somebody else’s is two very different things. You know yourself and your style, but you may not know the other writer very well and how they respond to different criticisms. It’s important to be able to communicate your thoughts on a piece effectively but not with a brash tone.
What are the components to a good critique? Let’s take a look!
The Good, the Bad, and the Better
When giving feedback on a piece, remember to balance the different areas you cover. Always try to find one thing you didn’t think worked in the piece and one thing that did work. This lets the other writer know you liked some parts of their writing, but you didn’t like other parts: ergo, the piece has potential, but there is room for improvement! Never let your critique be only negative or positive fully. I’ve learned that some writers can take all positivity to mean their writing is impeccable, they’ve achieved mastery level! That’s not generalizing all writers, but every so often you will come across a writer who believes their writing deserves only praise, and so often that may be the only reason they ask for your feedback: to get praise. Writers that only receive negative feedback might believe you’re attacking them and that you aren’t helpful at all. You want to help, and even if you don’t think there’s anything bad or good on the surface, that doesn’t mean there isn’t something good or bad if you dig deeper.
Furthermore, deliverance is key: you want to make sure to address the piece, not necessarily the writer. Start your suggestions with “I like how this has been written…but I think this could be better [how]…” It’s important not to give all of your attention to the writer themselves, because you’re reviewing the work, not them. Detaching them from the equation helps you to not only give honest and appropriate feedback, but it will avoid any concerns of “strawman” or personal attacks the writer may perceive from your review. Writers tend to be emotionally attached to their pieces, especially poetry, where there is more room to really connect yourself to your writing. Reviewing poetry is exceptionally more difficult, but don’t let that bar you from helping!
It’s more effective to start off with the “good” of the piece. Look for parts you particularly liked. Was there an original metaphor you thought worked well in the piece? Dialogue? Description? What stuck out as really good to you? Let them know you enjoyed it, liked it, etc. Let them know why you liked it too. If you’re struggling with good things in the writing, dig deeper. Was there a reason as to why they wrote the way they did? Was there an intended message you missed? A thorough read will equip you with a well-rounded critique. That’s why, when we analyze a piece, we read it several times. An initial read followed by in-depth analyzing will prepare you for offering the in-depth feedback that can actually help the writer modify and improve. Begin with the good and why it was good, and then proceed to the bad.
The bad should be what consists of your feedback the most. What I mean by this is, you want to focus most of your attention on how they can improve their piece, and you can only do that when pointing out what you believed didn’t work in the piece. What stuck out as a sore thumb? Was there an awkward phrase that detracted from the piece? Several clichéd descriptions/examples of imagery? Anything you thought hindered the overall experience of reading the piece should be mentioned. Remember your delivery: “I like how this was, but it could be better by…” Always offer suggestions on how they can improve—this is your Better.
Now is the part where you relate your suggestions for improving the piece. Don’t feel embarrassed if you don’t know how they can change it; offer the best suggestions you can. A writer with good character will be willing to listen to what you have to say, regardless. Look at “the bad” and give them ideas of how they can change it. Refer to your writing knowledge; how would you yourself approach the areas needing modifications? As I’ve mentioned throughout, check how you’re delivering feedback. Remember your style and approaches are different, and that can be either good or bad. Either the writer will have expanded their writing sphere from your feedback and will appreciate it or the writer doesn’t apply your feedback because they don’t see it fitting the piece. Either is fine: what’s important is that you’ve offered the best feedback you can!
If you want to dive deeper into the art of feedback, check out these very helpful sites:
I highly recommend you read them if you are participating in the club workshops or other writing groups!