1. OneMoreNameless
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    OneMoreNameless Contributing Member

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    Discussion During the Critiquing Process (Or: "Arguing Back")

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by OneMoreNameless, Jul 22, 2009.

    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.


     
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  2. Agreen
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    Agreen Faceless Man Contributor

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    This was an interesting post. For now, rather than trying trying to go over every point I'm going to discuss the ones that I think are most important.

    First of all, where possible I do try to encourage discussion in the reviewing process. If a writer leaves certain questions to be answered along with their work, I'm probably going to be more interested in reviewing their work both because it shows a degree of self-reflection on their part, and says to me that they are interested in seriously discussing their work. Likewise, when I'm reviewing I try to leave questions for the writer to answer, and when my own work is reviewed I'll often tell the reviewer exactly what helped me, and I will often ask them questions.

    At the same time, I think encouraging arguments or debates could have a harmful effect on the Review Room. From my experience it is the nature of debate to only open yourself to the perspective of the other side only insofar as the knowledge you gain from doing so allows you to strengthen your own argument and defeat theirs. It is, instead of constructive dialogue, a competition. Worse, it has an excellent chance of becoming that special kind of internet competition where nobody wins, feelings get hurt, and everyone involves ends up looking foolish which creates more work for the mods.

    Elaborating on this, I'm not sure if this is what you meant, but I had the impression you wanted to open the discussion of a review to both the writer being critiqued, the reviewer and other forum members- if that isn't what you meant then I apologise and this paragraph can be ignored. There have been many times when I've strongly disagreed with the comments left by another poster on a piece I've reviewed. I haven't, and wouldn't directly confront them on this because I can only see doing so leading to resentment, and chasing new reviewers away from the Review Room. Recently I looked back at some of the very first reviews I left on the site and compared to what I'd consider my best, they were lacking- largly due to a lack of confidence on my part. Had someone pointed out the flaws or picked apart these critiques, I seriously doubt I've ever have posted another review here (something some of the victims of my reviews my have wished happened :p).

    So then how, at least from my perspective, can these two seemingly opposite lines of thought reconcile? I think it's in the tone. On rereading my post and some others in the recent thread about making the reviewing process more palatable for both sides, it almost seemed like the harsher the reviewer treated a piece, the better the review. I don't really think that's true. While I believe a reviewer should feel comfortable pointing out problems and stating their opinion bluntly, I think being positive is just as conducive to writing a contructive critique as is negativity. What I mean is that I think it just as helpful to point out things that work well, and explain precisely why they work. Likewise- unless we're talking about an obvious error in spelling and grammar- I think taking the time to explain why you think a passage should be changed, why the problem stood out and how it can be resolved, can be more helpful than just saying 'change this,' or inserting a re-written sentence with no more explanation than 'this is better.'

    In applying this to the dialogue between reviewer and writer, I think you can have a healthy exchange of comments and questions without either side feeling forced to fight for their points or prove the other wrong. If you've recieved a comment you're unsure of, I don't see any harm in asking the reviewer to elaborate on what they mean or to explain why they feel that way. I think even something like, "I'm not sure about this, this is what I think about...." can lead to a healthy conversation. On the other hand... saying something like 'you're wrong because..." or "well actually, this means..." or "no, you just don't understand, what I meant was..." will at best drive potential reviewers away, and at worst create a situation forcing the mods to take action.

    Finally, I really do think it important to show appreciation to anyone that takes the effort to read and review your writing. Even if I've disagreed with their comments- and even if I ask them questions meant to discuss a point further, I always make it a point to show my appreciation to anyone that comments on my work. Writing a review takes no small effort, and often a fairly significant investment of time. If someone takes the time only to be told their effort was useless- or even worse than useless- that person will be extremely reluctant to ever make that same effort again, and the forum will suffer for it.

    So I suppose in the end I agree with the quote from Cog at beginning of your post. Healthy and respectful discussion will in my opinion help both the writer and reviewer, but arguing over reviews will lead to an unpleasant atmosphere in the Review Room.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The writer's role is to present a story in a clear and interesting manner. The critic's role is to point out what is unclear, tedious to read, or generally weak, from his or her perspective.

    The critic will reply based on how he or she perceived the author's intent.

    I;m emphasizing that because it's important. The writer does not enter into a conversation with an ordinary reader. The writer launches the writing, and has no further control over it, For that reason, it is vitally important to listen to what a critic gets from the writing, without correcting the impression.

    The writer is heavily invested in the writing, and so the natural response is to defend his or her writing choices.

    DON'T.

    The entire point of getting a critique is to receive feedback. The moment you start defending your choices, you have ceased to listen.

    That is why you need to put arguing the points out of your mind. Take what the critic offers with a truly open mind. Take what the critic says as gold, at least as a reflection of the reader's reaction. Try seeing the writing from that point of view.

    If you eventually decide not to use one or more of the critic's suggestions, that is fine. It may be a lost opportunity, but in te end, it is your piece of writing,

    You don't have to justify your choice to the critic.

    You don't have to justify your choice to the critic!

    All that you will accomplish by debating with the critic is satisfy your ego, and annoy either that critic or others who were considering taking a pass through your writing.

    Now, having said that, what do you do when people keep misunderstanding your intent, and you have no idea how to correct their perception?

    That is when you can say, "I was trying to convey X, but you are seeing Y. Where am I going wrong? What could I do to make it clearer that I meant X, and what is making you see Y instead?"

    But that should be a last resort! As soon as you start telling a critic what you had in mind, you have introduced a bias, and you no longer get a true reaction that tells you what a fresh reader would have gotten from the writing.
     
  4. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    In the face-to-face crit groups I go to, we have a 'fly on the wall' rule when your work is being reveiwed/critiqued/shredded by the group. The writer does not have a voice in the discussion, precisely for the reason Cognito gave -- you have no way to explain to the average reader what you meant.

    In the end, it doesn't really matter what you were trying to say. If majority of crits point out they took something different from it, then maybe you need to look at a different way to say it.
     
  5. OneMoreNameless
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    OneMoreNameless Contributing Member

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    Should it be? Receiving feedback for a single piece of writing is valuable for improving that single piece of writing. However, what is more important than improving that single piece of writing is improving the author's writing ability. An author can opt to make changes or not based on feedback, but until they understand them they are going to keep making the same mistakes in all future writing. This can be corrected by a long period of trial and error, but it would be more effective for the author to discuss the changes with the reviewer and realise why / how they are making the mistakes.

    Well, this is an absolute which is blatantly untrue. I've personally been in situations IRL where I've eg. defended the length of something I've written, but been convinced a few minutes later that it probably was too bloated. Defending your choices means that you're forced to justify them to other people - this means reviewers can correct the deeper level flaws with the author's thought process and also means the author will be thinking much harder about a change than if they were considering it alone. Correcting the fundamental flaws in an author's ability should be considered as important as correcting the resulting flaws in a single piece of writing.

    You don't have to, but if you do justify your choice to the critic it's going to a) give them a chance to improve your deeper level writing ability (see above) and b) the ongoing discussion may help improve the understanding and general writing ability of all other authors reading that thread, which will come to positively impact more writing than that one single piece.

    The fundamental difference in our opinions here seems to come from scale; is The Review Room intended to improve individual pieces of writing, or improve the writing ability of all authors who participate in it?


    @ Agreen, you make a valid point that I hadn't considered about chasing away new reviewers. A focus only on individual writing allows for a simpler critiquing process (and caters for casual authors who are only interested in one thing they've written), which would mean easier participation for new members. There isn't an easy answer to this - dumbing down a process allows a greater proportion of participation, whereas complicating it can increase benefits only to a smaller number.

    Actually, I think a good solution would be for authors / reviewers to be encouraged to create separate threads under Writing Issues on the occasions where discussion is reaching deeper levels, using the individual piece as an example for the discussion rather than the crux of it. That would allow the important consideration and improvement to still take place for the author and other readers, while distancing it to a certain extent from the author's personal writing (thus, a fairer playing ground for the discussion) and allowing new members the clear option to take part in just one or the other. It doesn't deal with the issue of poor critiques, but it would be a good step and something I might do myself next time a disagreement arises.

    Otherwise, it's mostly an issue of mindset. The line between an unhelpful argument and a healthy discussion is very blurry, so blatant discouragement of one is going to also reduce the instances of the other. If it was more clear that it was only personal hostility, competitiveness or close mindedness that was at fault (which are not the same things as arguing back) then you would get more of the good discussion and less of people of worrying if their terminology would count as "arguing" or not.
     
  6. chrisrozwod
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    chrisrozwod Member

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    I definitely understand where you're coming from with your position. However, it seems to me that while this method will, over time, be most effective, it might not be the most effective for individual pieces. Which is why I think your method should definitely be used with newer writers and/or reviewers.

    I think that turning it into more of a collaboration after the initial review might be best for each individual piece of writing. That's something that I know has really helped me. I'll turn in my story, and get it back a few days later with my professor's comments. Then I'll have a conference with her about the piece and my intentions. From there we discuss the best possible solutions to help solidify the weaker areas. I just know that it's something I've enjoyed, and without it, some of my writing wouldn't have been as good as it is. Perhaps that's because I was open to the criticisms though. If I were more stubborn, it wouldn't have worked.
     
  7. eliza490
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    eliza490 Member

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    I don't really think it's necessary to get into a big dicussion over a review. I prefer to think about what the person has said about my work, look over what I've written, and decide whether or not to use their advice. A lot of it's just a matter of opinion anyways. If I think it's good advice I take it, and if I don't I don't take it. I do think you make a good point though. It's not a bad thing to respond to someone's comments and 'argue' about it a little.
    ~Eliza
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If there is a point that needs further discussion, it should be taken to a Writing Issues thread, not discussed inline in the Review Room. This keeps the focus on citiquing instead of sending the thread off on a tangent.
     
  9. afinemess
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    afinemess Active Member

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    I dont see the point in arguing with a critique. If something you have written is causing people confusion, or raising questions in them, that is not the reviewers fault, but in fact the writers. You can argue with them till your blue in the face about what you "meant" to say or why you chose a certain path, but in the end, your not going to be there to explain your meaning to each and every reader. So if your being told something is off in your writing, you should look at it yourself and address it. Not give someone your writing, ask them what they think, and then tell them they are wrong, because what if you really are wrong, but you have now convinced others you are right? Your not helping anyone there.
    I recieved a review of my work, and while I wanted to sit there and tell them what i had really meant or why I had used certain words, and why they were wrong in thier assumptions, and take my paper and run, I realized that maybe they were right, and they wouldnt be telling me those things if there wasnt a reason.

    I agree with the approach to take each critique for what it is worth, and "most" always, you can find something good in every review. If we all started discussions on why a certain review wasnt good, it would cause alot of issues, and a ton of talking in circles.
     
  10. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think this is the most important part of this entire concept. When everything is loosie-goosie, threads go off on complete tangents in no time flat. Human nature. And it just takes one minutely off topic part to a post to derail an entire thread. Like a penny on a train track.

    If you have issue with what has been mentioned in a critique, then contemplate why you take issue with it. What is the core reason? Take that core reason and formulate a concise, constructive question that can be taken to the Writing Issues area and speak about there. I can promise that if I come into a thread that seems to be spatting back and forth concerning what has been mentioned in a critique, that thread will see a quick exit from me. I get upset when I see reviewers start to go at each other in threads where I have posted my work because there goes any other reviews I might actually receive on my work.
     
  11. Phobia
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    Phobia Member

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    You actually make a really good point there. You shouldn't be offended by what others say in critiques mainly because of the fact that YOU asked for the critique yourself. It will help you improve. But if you strongly disagree with what another person said, simply dig down deep inside and find out WHY you strongly disagree. WHY you don't agree with this criticism.

    It's anyone's choice, really, to decide what to say about one another's piece of writing. If you ask for a critique, then you should be able to deal with what comes in the package.

    (If I made the wrong impression with the quote and you meant something entirely different, feel free to PM or Reply and tell me to edit the post. Just make sure to thoroughly explain what you meant.)
     
  12. cuppaculpa
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    cuppaculpa New Member

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    I've been part of a few workshops and writing forums before -- defending your writing is never productive for the writer or the reviewer. What is productive are prodding questions posed to the reviewer: what gave you that impression? why does that word seem wrong to use? What made you stumble -- the word meaning, the rhythm, the sound, a thematic break? This is of benefit, not just to the writer, who gains a better understanding of the impact of the piece, but for the reviewer as well.

    Many reviewers are new to the practice and don't know how to express their impressions clearly enough for them to be of any use to the writer. A simple, "I didn't liked it," doesn't explain anything. Some reviews may sound clear, but aren't, for example: "that word is a powerful word, is that what you actually mean" -- it sounds like a proper critique, but the reviewer needs to explain why that particular word is supposedly so powerful (e.g. it brings to mind a buffalo stampede), because the concept of powerful language to one person is not the same as to another.

    I suppose what I'm arguing is that the reviewer should be defending the review -- even from other reviewers -- as opposed to the writer defending the piece. I suppose, in actual practice, it might be difficult to tell who is defending what :)
     
  13. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think the issue arises where people percieve an author's response to a review critique as the author trying to "defend" their work. Defending your work is usually not productive. No argument there. But discussing your work can have enormous benefits. As a reviewer and as a writer, I don't mind threads where a critique is discussed. I do tend not to leave a comment when the writer is attacking a reviewer, or defending their work, but if they are asking for clarification, I don't see the problem.

    The suggestion of taking a discussion to the Writing Issues area is a good one in general, but not all questions are enough in and of themselves to support a whole thread. The line between thread-worthy questions and those that aren't is fuzzy, but it is there. I don't think it is fair to have a blanket policy against responding to a critique in any way by either an author or another reviewer. I can see where the staff doesn't want to deal with the possible flame war, and I don't think they should have to. But what I don't see is why every single question must be assumed to result in said flame war. That's just not the experience I have had--here, or on most of the other good writing sites.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Banzai and I don't step in unless the heat level begins to rise, or unless the discussion wanders away from the specific piece of writinng. However, it invariably begins with a writer disagreeing with the validity of a critique point, and usually defending a choice made during the initial draft.

    A request for clarification is rarely a problem. Discussions over general writing recommendations derail the critique thread, and we have to ask the participants to move the discussion to a Writing Issues forum.

    In the case of an argument igniting, we have to warn or infract both participants. It is better to prevent such arguments in the first place.
     
  15. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    I think if the writer explains what he is trying to accomplish, a great discussion may follow. That shouldn't be discouraged. If a reviewer can offer specific advice on how achieve the goal, (which may not be obvious just from reading the piece) isn't that what it's all about?

    There is a line, I agree. Some of my responses to my own threads have been defensive in the past, but I have learned better, and I recognise my past foolishness. I have since learned from those critiques. And nothing negative came of it anyway. I don't think I've ever seen any flaming in the review room, but I don't read everything.

    There is an unmoderated site I post to. The crits there are brutal, direct and to the point. Diplomacy and kindness as seen here would be out of place like Santa Claus in hell over there. . . Sometimes there is much discussion, but again, I don't think I've seen any real flaming.

    I've received some fantastic advice on that site, which I don't think I would ever get here. Posters on WF tend to be timid, with moderators lying in wait, ban hammer raised on high.

    That's why I'm never entirely sure if people are being straight with me. I post here for in depth reviews, and post elsewhere for honesty. Now I just post my stuff to that other site, and if/when I manage to write something passable, I'll post it here for a more in depth analysis. I guess that's ok. .

    But I can't help thinking that some of the community potential here is wasted.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Explaining carries its own drawback. Once a writer has explained his or her work, the readers are biased. You no longer get feedback that that reveals your intent was not communicated clearly.
     
  17. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Very true. But to have such a discussion, you must have already received said feedback.

    So. . it can be good to explain your intentions once you've gained all you can from the initial wave of crits. After two or three thorough reviews, there isn't usually a whole lot for anyone to add, and you've got a pretty clear notion of how your piece was received.

    At that point, isn't the next logical step to work on clarity? Shouldn't the writer be thinking "Okay, so how can I communicate this better?" Sometimes the reviews just don't answer that question as well as a discussion might.
     
  18. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can always ask a Reviewer to give you an "honest" reply. I know that I don't hold back on critiques, because I trust the moderators not to come down on me for something that is a critique and not a flame, no matter how brutal it may be.

    I would also like to agree with your comment about what to do after the initial wave of critiques.
     
  19. Agreen
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    Agreen Faceless Man Contributor

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    I agree. I think once the initial wave of reviews starts to trickle down, if the writer has anything specific they'd like a reviewer to look at or discuss they should ask- and I think such discussions can be both helpful and interesting.

    With regards to honesty in a critique, I do think sometimes posters on the site- especially if they're somewhat new to reviewing, can seem relecutant or nervous about criticising a work- and though not many, I have seen the odd bit of flaming over harsh but in my opinion fair and honest reviews. For my part, I try to be as honest as possible, but if I really dislike a piece of writing I have a hard time reviewing it.
     
  20. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Explaining yourself can also be misinterpreted as arguing, or saying that the person who gave the suggestion doesn't have a valid point, especially since we can't hear any tone of voice.

    Open discussion can be good, but can go so wrong so easily. Discussion went well with one of my posts here, but that is rare. If a writer doesn't agree with a suggestion, or if the reviewer doesn't understand why the writer did something, they should ask questions. e.g. Speedy, being an Australian, didn't understand why I said "In Queensland. In Australia," so he asked why I wrote it that way if there was a Queensland he didn't know about. I explained that I thought it fit the pacing, and that the person the character was speeking to wouldn't have known automatically that there was a place called Queensland in Australia, and neither would enough of my audience for it to be worth mentioning.
     
  21. Ansky
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    Ansky Member

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    A couple of points on things that have been said today:

    1.) I think there are a lot of reviewers here who will point out flaws that they see in other people's writing. There seem to be people who are timid about saying anything negative, and that's certainly understandable, but as someone who has spent a lot of time in the Review Room, I see a ton of very good feedback in there, too. I know that if I review something and I think it needs a lot of work, I'll say it needs a lot of work. I think the key on this forum is that many reviews give specific areas for improvement if people dislike the work. If you're on an unmoderated forum and someone's review just tells you that your work is terrible and nothing else, how helpful is that?

    2.) In regards to discussion, I definitely hear what Cog is saying about "explaining" tainting the critique process, and that is probably very true for reviewers who read the other reviews before they review. As someone who tries to critique other pieces before reading other reviews, though, I've actually found some of the explaining I've seen very interesting.

    Sometimes I actually ask the writer questions about what they meant because I'm curious about what caused them to write what they wrote in the way they wrote it. As someone who uses the review forum not only to try to help others but to help my own work through reviewing the work of others (and I can already tell that reviewing others' work is helping my own), sometimes it can be illuminating to hear the thought process behind the decision making, because it can send up a red flag if you're having similar thought processes when you're writing your own work. So to make a long story short, I think there's probably a place for explaining, but the author should definitely be aware that it could taint other reviewers, as Cog suggested.

    So far I've never really felt like someone was arguing with me or getting too defensive. I know that might change down the line at some point, but so far, so good. :)
     
  22. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    This is getting off-topic, but I'll try to explain this one point.

    I find that the reviews here generally focus on polishing. Sometimes we'll say that a prologue should be scrapped, and explain why. . because prologues are usually infodumps. But rarely do I see anyone say, "this chapter should be scrapped or rewritten entirely."

    This is a very valid critique if you can explain why, but most people here don't want to say that a piece is without merit. So we tend to point out lesser issues, polishing content that isn't fuctional in the first place. Of course, this is still very beneficial, because it will help our writing in general. I'm not saying the crits are useless--they're great--but I need to know when I'm wasting my time rewriting something that isn't ideal no matter how I write it.

    And I'm not saying everyone crits that way. It's just a general trend I've noticed.

    Posting to other sites has helped me to identify a dud beginning in the past. I realised that I had the perfect beginning already written further into the piece, so that was great. I had been stressing over my opening paragraphs, trying to perfect the writing when the content was lousy. There was just enough merit in the content that nobody here would say "junk it," despite it being the best course.

    So posting here got me a lot of feedback on those paragraphs, (polishing) whereas posting elsewhere helped me to fundamentally change the story for the better. Both types of feedback are useful. But the latter was definitely more harsh, and more useful to me, since I had been stressing needlessly over an intro that could be cut.

    I don't accept crits that aren't legitimate. That is, if a poster can't explain exactly why he thinks an excerpt needs the axe, it isn't useful. . So my decision was influenced only by quality feedback. Just because a forum is unmoderated doesn't mean the posters aren't intelligent.

    I think the general reviewing style here (that of polishing) comes from looking for a bright side, actively seeking out something positive to comment on. We don't want to write a totally negative review and just leave it at that. The problem is that if you must search for the bright spots, you aren't giving an honest impression, IMO. If it didn't stand out to you as being extraordinary, is it really worth commenting on? The reality is that it was probably just "OK," which means good, but not particularly noteworthy.

    I'm not saying that any of this is bad. The reviews here tend to be more thorough than I've seen almost anywhere else, and that's awesome. I'm just saying that if you post your work to different sites, you'll notice that you get different kinds of feedback, and that the difference goes well beyond "useful vs useless". The moderator presense (not moderator interference! there's a difference) is just the best explanation I can come up with for now.

    I will say that I've written some absolutely brutal crits here in the past, and I've never been in trouble with the mods for that. They don't interfere in reviewing unless it really is called for.

    If anyone would like to discuss it further, perhaps another thread should be started.;) Or you could PM me.

    Sorry for rambling. I've probably written a lot more than was necessary.
     
  23. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Now I am curious as to what your other site is. One reason you don't get a lot of the crits you are describing on this site is that "chapters" generally mean there is a lot of other material the reviewer can't see. It's very hard to crit something on a large scale if there is no context. On this site, excerpts are the general thing, at least for longer works. So, from that perspective, it may just be an effect of the posting rules that you don't get as "brutal".

    Or I could be entirely misinterpreting you. The curse of the internet.:)
     
  24. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    If the audience cannot appreciate the piece without explanation, the artist has already failed.
     
  25. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ah! So I was right. The classics do suck. How do ya like that James Joyce?:eek:
     

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