1. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    Why I don't like the 'sandwich' approach

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Lifeline, Jun 30, 2016.

    Okay, I think I am going to set the cat among the pidgeons here. But anyway - feel free to discuss:

    https://hbr.org/2013/04/the-sandwich-approach-undermin/

    Why the 'sandwich' approach in giving critique does not work. I must say, I agree. I have received numerous critiques till now, and I - by far - prefer if someone tells me straight out what does not work and not try to sugarcoat.
    But that may be just me. I didn't post this here because I think just saying straight out works for all people, but it sure works for me.
     
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  2. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    I've read the article and it's certainly compelling. I wonder if – when communicating virtually with people you've never met – the sandwich method is attractive because one doesn't want to piss anyone off. Virtual communication is so much harder than real life because we miss out all the non-verbal cues present in face-to-face communication.

    Maybe the issue here (here in the virtual world) is not so much about how to present criticism in a balanced or easily-digestible way, but rather how to present any contrary opinion without being labelled a schmuck. Our relationships are not leader/direct report relationships, but rather person-in-the-street/person-in-the-street relationships. So perhaps we have to tread more lightly.

    I don't know. Interesting article though.
     
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  3. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    I won't pretend, it's not easy getting a critique which doesn't sugarcoat. I hate it every single time, but when it is stated at the beginning that this is such a critique I can get over heartache pretty soon. I never know who would feel compelled to critique, and yes, not knowing these people makes it harder if I get a sandwich-critique. For me, the negative statements in between positive ones outshine the positive ones in these 'normal' critiques. Go figure ;)

    That is why I prefer to get a honest-straightforward critique. Stated at the beginning of the whole mess.
     
  4. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    Me too, and I really did think the article was spot on – in a business setting. My post above was me wondering out loud (virtually) how to apply that to writer's forum.
     
  5. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Eurgh, typical middle-management blog aimed at people who can't survive outside a corporate setting.

    I've suffered a lot of heartache through giving "no nonsense" feedback. I don't mean feedback that's phrased rudely or brutally, just feedback that gives all the negatives. People have reacted very badly, I hate it, and it makes me not want to give feedback anymore. I get better results when I start and end with a positive.

    But it's not "sugarcoating". To me, sugarcoating means playing down your negative feedback and making it sound not-so-bad. The sandwich method doesn't do that--the negative is still negative, but it's surrounded by two positives. Watering down your negative is something different entirely.

    I'm going to continue using the sandwich method.
     
  6. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Yeah, I'm sort of meh about the article. We're not face to face. We're incognito people - we don't know anyone's real name, sometimes not even their gender or age. We don't know if someone has been writing for years or just started. So for me the sandwich method works. Plus, I don't find it gushy to tell people when they've actually done something right.
    I don't give perfect critiques and I don't expect them. People can do them however way they want. When I state the positives I keep them simple and straight forward. Telling them what was good and what worked and here's what didn't work for me. I don't feel that I gush or like I'm letting someone down easy. All I'm trying to do is make sure they don't feel discouraged. I'm as straightforward with the positives as the negatives. Because this is the internet and we're not face to face. I don't know whether I'm dealing with someone who can handle a no sugar-coating approach. And if someone truly wants that kind of critique I think they should request it.
     
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  7. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    @Wayjor Frippery : Is there a difference? We are in the business of writing. Should there be a difference how we approach the craft of writing?

    But yes, of course people should state if they want such a critique!
     
  8. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Yes and I've also started telling people that I'm (apparently) a very harsh critic before I accept their manuscript for a beta read. It allows them to bow out if that's not what they want.

    I find I'm naturally much gentler with poorer writers, because if I pointed out everything negative it'd be too overwhelming, so really anyone getting a harsh critique from me should be happy... but you try explaining that without looking like a knob. :D
     
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  9. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I think the 'sandwich approach' is kinder, especially when you're dealing with someone you don't know and don't know how they're going to react. And I know I tend to come off sort of blunt and harsh if I don't really work towards being kinder - I read other things to same way I read my own, and it's very critically. I don't have to be nice to myself, and if I'm reading something for a friend I'm more likely to preface it with "okay, keeping in mind that you know I'm an asshole who doesn't know how to be nice ..." (while also devoting part of my response to the things I did like), but when I'm reading something for someone I don't know, I'd err on the side of positivity. I don't think you necessarily have to 'sandwich' or flip between compliment and critique to soften the latter - you can just be gentle with pointing out your criticisms and offer explanations and solutions rather than tearing down, and it won't feel negative.

    When reading for a friend I'm also more likely to ask if they want a really detailed, in-depth analysis, broader strokes, or just a general impression, which isn't really an option on a forum unless the op has specifically said "these are the things I really need feedback on".

    I guess I don't think that your personal preference ("just the meat" or whatever) should really figure into how you treat others' work? Some people on here have been writing and getting crits for years or decades and some started showing people their writing last week. Why not be kind?
     
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  10. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    YES! This is my problem--I definitely had a period of being terrified of critique, when anything negative seemed like the end of the world, but nowadays positives barely register and I'm hungry for the criticisms. As my preferences have changed so have my critiques--always treating people how I'd want to be treated.

    I have to remember now that not everybody has a thick skin, and many people thrive on the positives.
     
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  11. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    I think the sandwich approach is very misleading. I prefer you just tell me what you don't like. How does this even work?

    1) You have excellent spelling and a very good vocabulary. Positive.
    2) Your story was extremely boring and I couldn't get past the first three pages.
    3) Before my head hit the table, it did occur to me that you have very good sentence structure and made very few grammar mistakes. Good job!

    The truth is so much easier to take, that way if I do like it the author will know I am telling the truth.
     
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  12. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    I'm seriously thin skinned and hate that I am. Criticise me for anything else and I'll politely tell you where to stick it, and how far. I don't know why it's so different when it comes to writing. It feels intensely personal somehow, even though I know it's not. I also suffer from crippling stage fright when it comes to playing music. I guess that anxiety comes from the same place.

    I think I could take a harsh critique now, but I definitely couldn't to start with with. I needed to know I wasn't banging my head against a brick wall. Being told I painted a reasonably vivid picture gave me enough confidence to start working on my faults.

    If it wasn't for the sandwich approach, I'd have given up three years ago.
     
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  13. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    I hate negative critiques also. But they do make me take a look at what I am writing. If you gave me two positives and a negative, I would still think I was okay and maybe its just the reader trying to find something negative.
    When I think of a negative critique, I think of the reader telling me what they don't like and politely telling me why. I never received a "this is a total waste of my time" type of critique. At least not yet. I have bored readers, but they tell me why and leave it up to me to ignore or fix it.
     
  14. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think it depends on the situation.
    I've seen odd praise sandwich usage in business settings. If you're suddenly receiving feedback, where feedback wouldn't normally be given, but it needs to be given this time because something has gone wrong, the accompanying praise can feel as fake and ridiculous as that article suggests.
    Everyone knows why the meeting has really happened. - there's a problem that needs to be addressed.

    In a situation where there is scheduled feedback on a project, or a scheduled performance review, I think a praise sandwich is a good idea where possible. In those situations some people can take it badly if they've been trying hard, but all they hear is criticisms.

    Writing critiques is a situation where the writers are expecting feedback, and many people will be hoping to hear both the positive and the negative.
     
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  15. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    Is there a difference between a corporate entity and a writer? I think there is – fewer suits and ties with writers for a start.

    Should we, as writers, approach the writing business with a corporate mindset? – Probably, yes. Should we, as writers, approach the business of writing (the craft) with a corporate mindset? – No, I don't think we should. Did Picasso go to board meetings? Did Iris Murdoch – or JK Rowling, for that matter – have scheduled meetings with underlings and overlings to brainstorm, lever, delegate and maximize issues of craft in the corporate mode? No, I don't think they did.

    So, no, I don't think that a craftsperson/artist looking for constructive critique from other craftspeople/artists on the subject of craft should behave in the same way as a corporate leader/manager interacting with her/his staff.

    ------

    Having said all that, if I ask for criticism, please give it to me straight.

    :)
     
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  16. A man called Valance
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    A man called Valance Active Member

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    It's a tough one to call when you don't know the person on the receiving end. Unless specified, I'll stick with the sandwich.
     
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  17. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I had to give very harsh feedback today. :( I couldn't even sandwich because there were so few positives. It makes me feel really shitty but what is there to do when you know lying won't help anybody?
     
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  18. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't usually do a sandwich, but I do try to throw something positive in. Writing is very personal, people have worked hard on whatever they're submitting - I try to find something.

    When people open with the ol' "this is something I just threw together" bit, I don't bother working to find something positive if nothing positive easily appears. They're either lying or they didn't work hard, so in neither case do I feel obliged to be overly kind.
     
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  19. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    Whi le I'm all for kindness, consider it from a practical standpoint:
    Deliver the negative without pointing out the positive, the writer might end up removing something really great about their story they should keep.
     
  20. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, as long as there IS something really great, I think we should try to point it out, for sure.

    It's when we're struggling to find anything even vaguely good about a piece that I think the sandwich gets tricky...
     
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  21. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I said her writing was technically good (meaning in terms of SPAG), and I did my usual thing of making it all about the book instead the author (the character is X rather than YOUR character is X). I also pointed out that some of the things I have issues with are some of the things other romance readers love. I couldn't do more than that without outright lying.
     
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  22. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    The sugar-coating part of the critique is almost invariably useless to me. Hearing what worked well for the reviewer is just a step above, as far as I'm concerned. The only reviews I've ever had that were worth a damn were the critical ones.
     
  23. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    If I love something about somebody else's work, then I'm not going to feel comfortable keeping it to myself and only telling them about the things I didn't like ;)
     
  24. Cnayur
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    Cnayur Member

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    I don't like the sandwich approach if I have to use it all the time, as if it's a fail-safe formula. I'd rather try and phrase my feedback in a way that doesn't come across as too knobbish and I will say something positive if I really liked a specific line, or image, or whatever. Having to always package each negative point between two positive ones is just bothersome IMO.
     
  25. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I know when I get edits back, it really adds energy and enthusiasm to my work when the editor has included positive comments as well as suggested changes. I'm not too insecure about my work, and these are pieces that have already been accepted for publication, so I have reasonably good external evidence to suggest the writing's okay.But reading over 80K words and having every nit picked out for examination? A few "I loved this scene" and "Literally LOLed" comments go a hell of a long way toward making the experience more positive.
     

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