You might have heard this sentiment before: Always take your critiques gracefully, assume the fault is yours, and thank the reviewer. It sounds like pleasant advice, doesn't it? For a casual forum, perhaps, but The Review Room should be a place for serious and honest critiquing. The current suggestions may sugar coat the process, but they also limit it. Most of the time it still works. But a lot of the time this stigma against "arguing back" is cutting off the most vital discussion, creating unbalanced relationships that greatly hinder learning, and leave too much important information to guesswork for the whole community. In this thread, I will explain and argue why this current perception needs to change in order for the community to reach its highest potential. A clarification: When I use the word "argue", I do so without the negative connotations sometimes attached to it. It is blatantly possible for two people to present and consider their reasons for conflicting opinions without personal hostility or any offence during the process; I consider the term as something less formal than a debate, but more targeted and at odds than a discussion. We are educated writers after all, and probably among the demographics least likely to devolve into name calling where opinions differ. I also use the word "reviewer" in lieu of "critiquer"; this is for ease of reading only, and I don't intend any implications regarding the role by this choice of terminology. To begin with, I grant the opposing case two concessions. The first is that arguing does sometimes lead to outright hostility. This is something which is occasionally unavoidable in any context, not just critiquing. That the topic of discussion is the author's personal writing may increase the chances of this happening. However, at the same time for them to have posted it here, in a forum for serious critiquing (compared to a more personal / social medium) indicates that they are willing to listen to and objectively consider critiques (compared to mindless affirmations one might receive from a friend). This isn't a place where people ask if their bums look big in something, but a place where people know to expect criticism. Regardless of the odds, moderators can step in and correct the matter should it occur; they already do so well. This isn't any more a problem than most other regulated communities. What I believe is a problem is the blanket discouragement of "arguing back" - arguing is not the same thing as insulting behaviour. Discussion of the writing and critiques thereof is a valuable stage of the critiquing process and discouraging it does no favours to authors or reviewers who will benefit from it (more on this later). It also creates more borderline cases than it solves; it is not too difficult to distinguish a personal attack from an attack on a piece of writing, but trying to define what counts as "arguing back" vs asking for clarification or other responses is much more difficult. As it stands, an author may decide not to respond at all rather than risk being labelled as "arguing back" and disregarded entirely. Again, this greatly lowers the level of discussion taking place. The second concession is that arguing over a piece of writing or some particular detail is NOT something which should be done often. In most cases changes suggested by critiques are merely simple mistakes (eg. typos), obviously very subjective (eg. the writing's title), trivial (eg. the wording of a single sentence) and so on. Arguing these would not normally be worth the time or effort. Furthermore, it is true that an author should seriously consider a reviewer's suggestions before replying. Knee jerk reactions benefits nobody, although it should be noted that this applies not just to arguing, but also to blindly accepting suggestions (where nothing is learned as the author does not comprehend it, and any improvement to the individual writing becomes luck as to who was right), and perhaps in automatically condemning arguing when benefits do occur. So, where the author still disagrees after ample consideration, they are left with three options: Ignore the suggestion (no benefit), blindly accept suggestion (no benefit; see above), or arguing the point. Naturally, I advocate this last path when all else fails. One problem, I feel, with the current standing of the critiquing process is that reviewers are considered to have greater "power" during it. Authors are told to consider each critique carefully, take their advice and thank them, not argue back ... The end result is that while the authors receive basic critiques, the reviewers are receiving mindless affirmations of their ability. If authors were to receive such replies, they would become self-satisfied and rarely improve. Here, it's the reviewers who will rarely improve - the directly affects the critiquing and improvement of the authors. Worse, the skills of writing and critiquing are tied closely together and the reviewer’s own writing will suffer as a result. Here's something to think about: in the context of this forum, most reviewers are also authors. To consider the affects of arguing merely on the author of that particular writing is flawed; all discussion (or lack thereof) that is taking place and being considered is going to impact the skills - both writing and critiquing - of the author, the reviewer, and even casual readers not participating. Development of both these skills is important, and to always assume the reviewer is correct will greatly hinder this. Arguing back - applying the same benefits of critiquing to the reviewer’s critiques - will benefit this. The benefits of critiquing come from the community, so improving the community's overall skill will in turn benefit individual writing. Now there's something to be said for objectivity, and at times it might be preferable for another reviewer to correct a critique rather than the author. But something else to consider is that while the author cannot completely adopt the stance of an outside reader, any reviewers aren't going to be adopting that stance either; they will naturally be considering it with critiquing (whatever that amounts to for each reviewer) in mind, rather than a casual reader. It's a case of two different biases, but with care either can be mostly avoided while arguing. Another common claim is that the reviewers should be thought of highly for taking the time to critique the author's work, but common sense tells us that the author has also taken the time to critique other people's work. General gratitude is good for the community but the specific instances shouldn't really be impinging on our perception of the content. The fundamental truth is that while each reviewer's opinion is valid it is also no more valid than that of the author. The implications otherwise are a perception that needs to change. Discussion is good. After school study groups help children to learn and understand their English. Arguing couples attend therapy to work out problems and continue loving each other. A hair gel company discusses marketing strategies with an advertiser. The student, the couple and the hair gel guy all have direct personal stakes, and these are resolved by discussing the issues with others who do not. Why should critiquing writing be any different? It's not. If we take "no arguing back" as a rule, authors will receive only a single level of discussion: They post their work once, and the reviewers give their initial opinions on it. First impressions are important in writing, but there should be more to critiquing and improving a skill than that. The greatest benefit is to be found in the deeper levels of discussion and exchange of ideas. Here's a simple example of what I mean: say a piece of writing garners three critiques, each commenting on a different issue. The author agrees with one, isn't sure about the second, and strongly disagrees with the third. As it stands, the author is encouraged to nonetheless thank each reviewer and move on. The result is that the author (or any other reader) can not be sure whether the second or third suggestions are valid; there is a fifty/fifty chance that their own opinion is "correct". Any other reader might have their own opinions on the issue, but where they disagree will have the same apparent odds as to whether the suggestion is generally a good one or not. However, if the author had stated which suggestions they used and each reviewer had stated for or against the previous critiques then every person thereafter reading the discussion will know how popular each suggestion was. This would allow them to fairly give more weight towards the popular - and therefore more likely to be "correct" - suggestions. The odds of bettering the writing improve. (As an off side, the reason these odds are true is due to the nature of writing - as an art, success is measured purely by popularity within the target audience. This kind of discussion wouldn’t apply to more mechanical skills with a clear right and wrong. Unless you argued everything was subjective, but that’s a topic for another day.) And that's only yes/no discussion. Examining in detail the more contended suggestions adds another layer of discussion, and further increases the chances of improving the skills of everyone involved. The author in question arguing back about a suggestion they disagree with is the simplest, easiest and most relevant way of beginning this deeper level of discussion. At the moment authors are strongly discouraged from doing so, which more often than not means the deeper discussion and fuller critiquing never happens - other reviewers could start it, but realistically the author has the most at stake in that specific instance and will comment back more. There are other issues (eg. laziness) at play here, but the previously mentioned fear of being negatively labelled for arguing is a significant factor in the lack of community discussion, regardless of who starts it. Theoretical and broader level considerations aside, arguing back has practical benefits for the individual piece of writing too. During the vast majority of critiquing processes there will be a large number of criticisms and suggestions raised. When the author disagrees with one or two specifically this helps to bring the most dubious cases to common attention. This attention will encourage reviewers to comment and elaborate at greater length on these issues. As most mistakes are trivial or clear cut, it is neither necessary or practical to initially give that detailed explanation for all suggestions. In this way arguing both saves time during the first level of discussion and allows any uncertainties and detail to be clarified openly and more accurately (than being ignored or blindly followed based on initial, sparse comments) for the whole community to learn from. Arguing back also allows a better quality of critique to be given to the author on the issues that require it. During the first level of discussion, the reviewer only has the author's text to go by when attempting to correct them. If the author has a chance to explain why they made a certain inclusion, the reviewer is then able to make better suggestions and explanations based on the author's intent. Any misunderstandings in the reviewer's first impressions may be the author's fault, but after those impressions have been noted, the author and reviewers collectively will be able to improve the writing better if they share the same understanding. The author explaining their intent at this level of discussion does NOT "pollute" any first impressions as the reviewer has already had and noted those - Future reviewers would only be polluted if they read other critiques and discussion before the actual writing, something that would bias them anyway. Nothing is lost from the process if it is followed correctly, whereas accuracy is gained. The simplest explanation against arguing back has always been the risk of knee jerk reactions from authors who can't accept they're wrong. This same reaction is also the basis of the simplest reason for it. When an author has poured their heart and soul into a piece of writing it is difficult (whether wise or not) to take criticism and suggestions at face value. By getting into an argument over the changes, they are able to actually discuss the concepts, hear other people take sides, and finally have it worked through until they understand it themselves for all future writing. Some authors may stubbornly refuse, but unless they can reasonably justify their position then other members of the community will be able to see that and still learn from the author's mistakes. Discussing issues together is always going to be more effective for improving writing ability than waiting for an epiphany alone. Ultimately, it's the whole community that benefits from the arguments. Right now we have a forum filled with minimum level critiquing done by Review and Run posters actively encouraged not to do any better. We might still be improving, but it's slow and full of guesswork. Now we could keep scratching at the surface. Or we could start realising that there is no difference between author and reviewer, and that there are deeper levels of critiquing that we can learn from. Discussion and ongoing participation is the key. We're all mature enough to think before we post. We have the collective skills to succeed. All we need to do is start debating them in the open where everyone can learn. Although feel free to argue back at me about it.