1. JoeMusings
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    JoeMusings Member

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    Softening Your Reviews

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by JoeMusings, Aug 20, 2009.

    Has this ever happened to you? When you've read a piece that you absolutely detest, and then you write a mean but justified review, but then you read your review and decide that it's too mean, and so you soften all the language and make up some good aspects in the writing that aren't actually any good? Or when you've read a piece that you absolutely love, and then you justifiably praise the author, but then you read your review and decide that it's too full of praise, and you soften all the language and make up areas of improvement that don't actually need to be improved?
     
  2. jonathan hernandez13
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    jonathan hernandez13 Contributing Member Contributor

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    My reviews are usually based in grammar, technicalities, etc. In closing (or throughout) I may make comments like "cliche" "good description" etc.

    I may give some recommended reading at the end, my impressions, ask a question/answer one they ask.

    What I don't like to do, and I've seen it done to others and to me, is make a statement that I might call "personal" or directed at me.

    You'd be surprised the things some people write, it can be offensive and aside from the fact it is not constructive or a review, it is just plain tacky to poke someone on the ribs on their own threads.

    I say stick to the material, if you're not helping but making a bunch of sweeping charged statements at the risk of picking a fight with the author or a mod you might as well throw feces directly at the TV screen. It's blatant trolling.


    Sorry, I just hate trolls #@%*! o_O
     
  3. Agreen
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    Agreen Faceless Man Contributor

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    Being completely honest and giving the reader your exact reaction to the piece is the most helpful approach in my opinion. It is perhaps a product of my reviewing style, but I don't worry about softening the language I use in commenting on the work (beyond the fact that I don't swear) because I don't really see the point in doing so.

    That said, while I am thorough and willing to make detailed points in discussing areas of improvement in a text, I do try to bring positivity into my reviews. I honestly believe that pointing out what a writer does well, and why you think they did that well is just as helpful as presenting ways in which difficulties in the text can be improved.

    And one final caveat- all of the above assumes the reviewer is actually trying to help improve the writing in a piece. While I can only think of a few times I've seen it here, Jonathan is correct in saying that flaming a piece- or worse the writer - without justification or for its own sake is basically trolling and of no help to anyone.
     
  4. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    It makes people more receptive to it. People make the excuse that it's not how editors do things and people have to be ready for it, but you don't know that all editors are like that. Besides, not everyone is at the point where they are ready to start working with publishers and it's not our job to prepare them.

    It's not necessarily "softer" language, but positive and encouraging, even when we are pointing far more problems than strengths (e.g. "It would be much more exciting if . . ." insead of "This part is boring because . . .). And we have to point out strengths because not everyone knows what they are doing right. If they don't know what they did right, they won't know to repeat it.
     
  5. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't even comment on pieces I detest, honestly. If I did, my post count would be much higher. Guess it's cuz my mother always said "If you can't say anything nice blah blah blah..."
     
  6. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    I agree with Forkfoot. I won't post to piece I see and think are absolute rubbish. I just can't dash the dreams of a writer that way, and I can't force myself to read the entire piece to give a proper critique.

    When I find a piece that, despite some flaws, kept my attention and could be something good, I will write a detailed critique that addresses the flaws, but also points out the good stuff.

    I have yet to be so wowed that I had nothing but praise, that counts for my own writing too.
     
  7. fandango
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    fandango Member

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    Completely agree. In reviewing a piece there are the basic things such as grammar, spelling, the less obvious things such as structure, tone, and then the completely personal things which the writer would still find useful even if they don't need to act on it.

    I'm also of the "honest" camp. There are ways to be positive about a negative review, but frankly dreadful writers needs to know they aren't that good. Otherwise how are they supposed to improve?
     
  8. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    I have to say I've learnt quite a bit in my time here, especially about the importance of being constructive. No point being otherwise if you want your message to hit it's mark. We're here to assist, not to demolish.
     
  9. Torana
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    Torana Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have unfortunately found out what it is like to be on the receiving end of abuse for reviews I've made in the past. So I tend not to be very... I tone my reviews down tremendously. I never lie about what I say in my reviews, I just give honest feedback and leave it at that. I do try to find one positive thing about a piece though. It can soften the blow for the author of the piece. But I can't always find a positive, and if I don't, I don't lie about it to make the writer feel better, because giving lies to the author NEVER helps.
     
  10. losthawken
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    losthawken Author J. Aurel Guay Role Play Moderator Contributor

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    I tend to soften critiques, but usually only when I sense that the author is new to writing or rather young (sorry kids). You want to be honest, and I am, but you also want to inspire the author to keep trying, not give up...
     
  11. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    I have in the past, but it didn't work out well. I think most recipients get more out of it if I'm honest. If I don't give my true impressions, but instead lace my words with diplomacy, or hand out compliments when they don't apply, I'm just wasting time--mine and the writer's.

    Usually, if I don't like a piece at all, I won't review it. If, despite the flaws, I think the writer or the piece might be going somewhere, I'll deliver a predominantly negative critique. I suppose they may get offended and ignore me entirely, but that's up to them. I'm sure some people do.

    Whether in spite of or because of my reviewing style, I've had numerous PMs asking me to look at a revision, or another chapter, or to continue reviewing a novel privately, so I must be doing something right.;)

    It depends on how serious the writer is.
     
  12. losthawken
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    losthawken Author J. Aurel Guay Role Play Moderator Contributor

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    That's one thing that's always bugged me about the reviews here. If you don't get any comments its either because it was so bad no one could read it and take the time to tell you or occasionally its because it was so good no one feels worthy.

    I don't think crappy writing deserves a review any less than average writing. And our silence doesn't help the author know where they are going wrong at all!! It just leaves them feeling like a hopeless failure. *snivels into sleeve*

    I've posted some pretty bad stuff in the review room, (hindsight is 20/20) and was so grateful for the one or two people who stopped to actually tell me WHY it was so bad that no one was reading it.
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Not true. There are any number of reasons that a piece gets overlooked.

    It may be too long an excerpt, or a "wall of text" without clear paragraph breaks. No one wants to tackle those.

    You may have been unfortunate enough to have posted just before a few "three post wonders" - post two "I liked this, keep writing!" posts followed by a "Here's something I wrote last night after a tequila or ten, tell me watcha think. Never mind the mispells LOL" Yours just wasn't noticed right away.

    You might be one of the above three post wonders. Nobody is biting.

    You might have started arguing back when someone critiqued your earlier piece. No one wants to waste time on you.

    Your piece might be good enough not to be an easy crit for the ones who just want to pick out easy problems, but not so compelling that other critics homed in on it to dig deeply. In that case, spending some real effort on other people's work might earn a reciprocal effort.

    The point I'm making is not that it's your fault if you don't get plenty of critiques. The point is that you shouldn't assume any one particular reason. Often it just comes down to luck.
     
  14. jonathan hernandez13
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    jonathan hernandez13 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Amen brother, EVERYONE is entitled to a review, and not just petty opinions.

    One person's trash is another person's treasure, so by denying someone an opportunity to improve on their writing simply because you don't like is almost evil---it's unnaturally selective!

    As we all know, only natural selection is true.;)
     
  15. payelK
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    payelK Member

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    I think every message can be delivered in a thousand ways and it depends on the which way you are choosing. So softening doesn't neccessarily mean you have to hide something or make it up. It's just about the way you are presenting it.

    If you look carefully there's nothing in this world where you can not find a positive side. So you can just point those positive sides along with the negative feedbacks. And negative feedback always should come with a solution, not just the problem. That way the person doesn't feel completely useless and yet he tries to be better.

    But seriously, I don't think that discussion is required in this site so much. Because as many critiques as I have seen till now, they never seem to be rude or harsh in any way. In fact I got a lot of help from these critiques. It inspires to be better. And it shows how each people feel different way. So even if something is not accpeted by a percentage of people, rest might just like it as it is.
     
  16. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Using positive, solution-based language doesn't mean you aren't being honest. It just means you're being postive and encouraging. Like my example before. Are you being less honest if you say "I think this part could be more exciting if..." instead of "This part is boring because..."? No. But in my experience, people are more receptive to the first kind of feedback. It's more useful, anyway, because it's focusing on how the work can be improved instead of why it's not good.
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I try not to focus on whether a piece is good or bad right now. Instead, I focus on possible ways to make it better.

    It doesn't matter where it IS on a qualiy scale, so much as where it COULD BE. And that often depends on how much work the writer is willing to put into it.
     
  18. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    So what do you say when it's totally horrible from the foundations up? "This could be a much better piece if you took out all the words and replaced them with other words. Also, if you hired a ghost writer."?
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    No. I would say, "This needs a lot of work." Then I would point out the worst three to five flaws for the writer to start with.
    That would be an unacceptable response on this site. It's completely non-constructive and disrespectful.
     
  20. jonathan hernandez13
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    jonathan hernandez13 Contributing Member Contributor

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    If one piece of writing is error-ridden it is not evidence that the writer is incompetent.

    If an enginner made a faulty machine called the Mark I prototype and no one bothered to give him advice on how to improve it, he would have moped and abandoned the project.

    Peer review strengthens disciplines (steel sharpens steel). An engineer can make a Mark II or III or XX.

    Bradbury said you can go through a million drafts before finding your definitive style, if you're not helping you're kind of contributing to bad writing.

    ALL I'm saying is that everyone is entitled to a review, and one that is not negative to the author. You can give them a spanking if it's for a good cause, it's called tough love. You can be honest with someone without hurting their feelings or insulting them, just because it's hard to do doesn't make it impossible.
     
  21. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm just asking cuz I never know where to start with bad, bad writing. That's why I usually just pass it up.
     
  22. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    That's an option too, if you aren't specifically asked to critique a piece of writing.
     
  23. Leaka
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    Leaka Creative Mettle

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    I think there is a such thing as a review and a bash.
    To tell someone: God this rubbish, I can't believe you wrote this. You need a lot of work on this. I couldn't even pass the first sentence.
    Is a bash.
    A review is telling them: Maybe you need to work on this more, take some time and revise it.
    I think some of the reviews make people very sad or very upset. Or even not wanting to write any more. I don't think a job of a reviewer is someone who should make someone feel bad about what they write.
    They should be encouraging them to write better and sharpen their pens.

    I don't think there is a such thing as a crappy writer and a good writer.
    I think we all have the potential of being good writers, therefore we need to encourage people to become good writers.
    Even if they may be bad now, or even if they made some mistakes. That doesn't suddenly mean they cannot be a writer.
    Anyone who works hard enough, can become a good writer.

    If a man is making a radio, and his first draft wasn't so good and everyone bashed his first draft.
    I don't think he would want to make a radio.
    Instead if people handed out advice on how to make his first draft better and encouraged him to continue.
    I think he would want to continue different drafts of the radio.
    Until he made an excellent radio.
     
  24. Mercurial
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    Mercurial Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can be honest, but you dont have to be mean about it. And if you are mean about it, it better be justified. Simply saying, "This sucks! I hate this, and I never want to read anything by you ever again" is rude and unhelpful. Like Leaka said, this is a bash; something I find that certain reviewers (not necessarily on this site but in my 'real life' editting job as well, and in published reviews). It may be helpful if it's printed in a newsmagazine --helpful to the audience of the magazine, but it sure doesnt help the author.
    Primarily, what I do, and what this site here does, is help the writer.

    So bashes, I say, are unacceptable. They're just rude, unhelpful, and really reflective of the kind of person, and writer, you are.

    A review can be harsh and in-your-face if need be, but there needs to be substance to back it up. If I'm editting a paper that is really terrible, I'm not going to hold back. Not infrequently have I handed the article back to the writer --usually a reporter, in my area-- and have written in the margin, "You need to run a spellcheck, grammatical check, and read your own work before you ask me to. I am not a proofreader, and I cant do my actual job until you get your **** together." Harsh? Yes, but even in those instances I have circled the same mistakes at least five times before saying, "I'm not doing this anymore --it's your job."

    And I have screamed when I take the time to sit down with the reporter, discussed the article, and they turn in the same exact paper a few days later, the paper I now am forced to publish. If I had the authority to fire people, honestly, I would sometimes.

    I tend not be so harsh when I am reviewing creative writing, although I have said the same thing and handed it right back on occasion, because creative writing is quite personal whereas reporting is more lacking in the heart and soul. Besides, in most instances when I review creative writing, I am not doing it professionally like I do with articles. I tend to open and close with uplifting comments. Like many before me have said, you dont want to scare the author off, particularly if the author is young and / or new to the field. Hell, you dont want to dishearten an experienced author either. It's a balancing act, reviewing. It's being able to get your point across without biting off anyone's head.

    Is it really a review if you pick out all the flaws and tell the author how much you detest their work? No. First of all, that's bashing. Second of all, that's proofreading, that's editting, but that's not what reviewing is.

    Reviewing (at least on this forum and generally for creative writing only) is holistic and does not fixate on only the negative bits of the writing. It includes going over the good points, the really terrible points, and everything in between. It's not just SPAG, character development, or plot critiques. It's a time where you can sit down with the author and discuss what you really enjoyed, and maybe what you think they should do differently in the future.

    So, I dont think you need to soften your reviews; you just need to be careful you know what a review actually is.
     
  25. shawsend
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    shawsend Active Member

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    I don't believe in softening reviews: Unless you think a story is perfect in every way, I think you should point out some of it's weaknesses and offer suggestions to improve it. Let's spot the errors and note them. I'm really sensitive about good grammar and realize I have some problems with it myself. Still though, I feel good grammar should be a top priority in here.

    What's a perfectly-written story that sends a powerful message and leaves a lasting impression on the reader? I'm on the look for powerful stories, and when I encounter one less so, I'll like to say why I believe it's lacking, but do so in a way that's constructive and helpful to the author.
     

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