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  1. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    May 19, 2007
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    Massachusetts, USA

    Constructive Critiques

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Cogito, Apr 7, 2009.

    What exactly is a constructive critique?

    What it is not is a rating. The word review conjures images of best seller lists and movie critics giving a thumbs up or down. But those critics are giving potential consumers advice on whether to lay down time and money on a finished work.

    In a writing workshop, critics are there to help a writer advance a work in progress to an improved state. It doesn't matter where the writing is on a quality scale as it stands. What matters is where it can be after the writer revises it as many times as he or she is willing and able.

    The purpose of the critique is therefore to offer suggestions to the writer to best focus efforts where they can be most effective.

    This is what defines constructive critique. Critique is constructive only if it helps the writer improve the writing.

    • Constructive critique is specific. Vague suggestions like "Fix spelling and grammar errors" are inadequate.
    • Constructive critique indicates why a change should or should not be made. Simply rewriting a sentence or two as you would express it isn't critique. It's vanity, unless you can offer a reason for making the change. Similarly, just saying you like some paragraph or verse isn't constructive unless you can say why the passage is superior and should not be changed.
    • Ideally, constructive critique should suggest possible solutions to perceived weaknesses. This is where diligent critiquing really pays off for the critic. If you can see a problem and a solution in someone else's writing, you can do the same in your own.
    • Formatting recommendations like separating paragraphs is not considered critique. Pasting from a word processing document loses paragraph formatting information, but that is a posting issue, not a writing issue.

    Try to address the questions What, Where, Why, and How:
    • What can be improved
    • Where there are specific instances that illustrate the problem
    • Why you feel it needs improvement
    • How you would suggest making the improvement
    • Why you feel your recommended changes work better

    You won't always be able to answer each of these in detail, but the more effort you invest in answering these questions, the more useful your critique is to the writer. More to the point, the thought process involved helps you improve your own writing in te revision phase.

    Be assertive in your recommendations. Instead of "I wondered about...," say it was unclear or ambiguous in this particular paragraph, and why it is unclear or ambiguous. Instead of asking questions, assume the writer has no opportunity to answer - if it were a published piece of writing. the writer has no opportunity to explain. It's the author's job to provide the necessary clues to answer the reader's question, if the author wants the reader to know the answer. More often than not, it's an oversight by the writer, who knows what is going on but may have forgotten to expose important details to the reader.

    Also, don't focus on responding to other critiques. Your conversation is with the writer. Whether you agree or disagree with other critics is irrelevant. A good strategy is to only read the writer's post (or the latest revision of it if he or she has already put up multiple versioins), respond with your thoughts, and then go back and read what other critiquers had to say.

    This is what is required for constructive critique, and learning to produce constructive critique is the primary goal of the Review Room workshop.
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