5 Tips for Improving Constructive Criticism

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Praise wraps around us like the glow from a warm fire, but like a cozy fire on a cold day, it can lull our writing into complacency.

Constructive criticism is one of the tools that fuels the growth of our writing, and most of us genuinely appreciate sincere concrit.

Unfortunately, for many of us, giving constructive criticism is infinitely more difficult than receiving it, and I fear that we’re not reaching our potential as a community because of the reluctance to delve into critique.

While a complete critique of a piece of writing can’t realistically be done for each prompt response we read, there are a few tips you can use to add some constructive criticism to your comments each week.

Be Specific & Focus on Your Reaction

Criticism: This piece is confusing. You’re not writing the characters very clearly.

Constructive Criticism: I got a little lost in the middle of the piece. I originally thought the characters met at the beginning of the piece, but then they started talking about mutual childhood acquaintances, making me think they’ve known each other for a while.

Offer a Suggestion for Improvement

Criticism: You’re jumping around a lot throughout the story.

Constructive Criticism: In such a short piece, it would be helpful for me to see the story from one character’s point of view instead of bouncing between three different people.

Don’t Get Bogged Down in Copy Editing

Criticism: You misused commas in seven places, have an m dash instead of a semi colon, and spelled eleven words wrong.

Constructive Criticism: There are some punctuation issues that interfered slightly with the flow of the story. A quick run through spell and/or grammar check will pick up some of the peskier ones.

Tackle One Area at a Time

Criticism: Your dialogue sounds a little wooden, you go back and forth between tenses, and the timeline is unclear.

Constructive Criticism: I’m reading your story as a chronological piece, so sticking with either present or past tense will provide continuity for the story.

Say Something Positive

Criticism: You should add more dialogue tags.

Constructive Criticism: The lack of dialogue tags made it a little difficult to figure out who was speaking at times, but the dialogue itself flowed well.  I like the way you managed to incorporate some slang without sounding forced.

Try to think about one or two of these tips as you’re commenting this week, and in the future.  Critique can seem like stepping on toes at first, but incorporating respectful, constructive criticism into our comments will help provide our community members with the tools to hone their writing and take their skills to a higher level.

12 Responses to 5 Tips for Improving Constructive Criticism
  1. Nancy C
    December 5, 2011 | 5:20 am

    Nice! I really like the examples of crit vs. concrit.

    • angela
      December 5, 2011 | 11:29 am

      Thanks Nancy! I think sometimes it helps to have an example instead of just an instruction. Hopefully?

  2. earlybird
    December 5, 2011 | 9:46 am

    Good post

    • angela
      December 5, 2011 | 11:29 am

      Thank you! I’m glad you liked it!

  3. Renee
    December 5, 2011 | 11:14 am

    I like the concrit examples, gives me a better picture of how to approach things.

    • angela
      December 5, 2011 | 11:30 am

      Oh good! I’m glad you found it helpful :)

  4. Kir
    December 5, 2011 | 11:52 am

    I really liked this, it helped me get more comfortable with getting and giving the const crit. I’ve bookmarked it and printed it.

    You’re inspirational …:)

    • angela
      December 5, 2011 | 11:58 am

      I’m glad it was helpful :) I know it’s difficult to do (for me, too!)

  5. Frume Sarah
    December 5, 2011 | 6:45 pm

    This reminds me so much of the ways in which my dad would critique my work. The constructive way, that is. Such an approach really removes the sting and made me far less defensive and much more open to his suggestions.

    Seeing it side-by-side is helpful for those visual learners among us!

  6. Ash
    December 8, 2011 | 7:39 am

    Love this. Similar to what Sarah said, I’m going to work on commenting as if I were reading a piece my 9yro wrote for English class. There’s a way of offering critique with a side of “you can do it!” Thanks for these examples.

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