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How To Give Constructive Criticism On Writing
By Bethany Cadman on January 7, 2017
It an be quite daunting when a writer gives you something of their work to read. You want to give them useful feedback but, knowing how sensitive writers can be it can often feel easier just to tell them everything you loved rather than pointing out things that could be improved upon.
If you are part of a writing group, online forum or just have some writing pals you like to share your work with then it can be important and so much more helpful to give them constructive and useful feedback. Learning to do so will not only help you to help your fellow writers but will also make you more aware of when someone is giving you advice that is intended to help you. This will hopefully make it a little easier to take the next time someone does make suggestions for change and improvement about your work.
So what is constructive criticism and how can you learn how to give it?
The most important part to remember is the ‘constructive’ part. Without it, you are simply being critical, and the writer will feel that and immediately start to get defensive (and understandably so). If there is something that you don’t like about a piece of writing that is absolutely fine, you are entitled to your opinion after all. However, if you can’t explain succinctly and carefully why it is you feel this way it may not be that helpful to share your feelings.
Not everyone likes to read the same sort of thing so you must be prepared to try to find ways of appreciating different types of writing, even if they might not be your usual cup of tea. Every time you find a part you don’t like, however, it is important to ask yourself why. Is it just that you don’t like this type of writing or is there something actually wrong with the piece? A constructive piece of criticism for example, might be that you don’t find what the male protagonist is saying is believable because their actions and speech sounds too feminine. Your can provide examples to back up what you mean. Then the author can do something with that and use your comments to improve their work.
You don’t have to be completely honest when it comes to critiquing a fellow writers work. Being frank and candid is helpful but picking on every tiny little thing that you didn’t like will just make them feel as though you are petty and therefore less likely to listen to you.
Remember the sandwich method. If you want to say something negative about an authors work, then sandwich it between two positives. Find something good and complimentary and say that first, then slip in your criticism and then say something else that will make them happy. That way you have carefully cushioned the blow for the author and they will be able to accept what you have said a lot more readily.
Don’t feel bad. If someone has asked you to critique their work, then you owe it to them to do it thoroughly and truthfully. Think of it as being cruel to be kind. If writers don’t hear about the mistakes, they have made or get a true feel for what readers will make of their book they won’t be able to improve. Remember that you are doing them a favour and if they get upset by your critique gently point this out to them.
Be prepared to be ignored. Even the most well-intended constructive criticism may well be ignored. Writers are protective of their writing; their work is precious and fragile and even the most well-intended critique may not be welcomed. As long as you know you have tried your best to be tactful as well as helpful then you have done your job, and there is not much more you can do!