How to provide (or get) constructive critique in 3 steps

constructive concrit, writing tips

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Here’s the reality. People want constructive critique. And all too often, they aren’t getting it.

Why not? Time is a factor. When you’re trying to read a prompt on your smart phone during your kid’s soccer practice, sometimes your insights get lost somewhere in between dinner, baths, and bedtime.

Another factor may be fear. You don’t want to offend, or come across as knowing more or less than you think you do.

There are many reasons why constructive critique doesn’t happen. But if you want that to change, here are a few things you can do as a reader and as a writer.

1. Remove the phrase “great post” from your vocabulary. If a post spoke to you, use your words and say how. “This post reminded me of….” or “This post made me feel________because____________” are two ways to approach it.

2. Speak specifically. Right click and highlight lines or words that captured you. Copy those phrases and explain what you liked about them. Or, if something confused you, copy those phrases and ask clarifying questions.

The third step puts the onus on the writer.

3. If you want feedback, ask specifically for it. You know that little spot at the front where you put the Write on Edge button and explain the prompt? Here’s where you tell the reader specifically what you want him or her to examine in your piece. For example:

“Please tell me where the piece drags.”

“Please explain if (and how) metaphor worked in this piece.”

“Please advise if Frank’s behavior seems believable and why or why not?”

Your reader can’t read your mind. Help him or her help you.

Now, there’s a lot more to constructive critique, but these three steps are a good start.

What do you think? Please share in the comments.

16 Responses to How to provide (or get) constructive critique in 3 steps
  1. Lance
    March 19, 2012 | 7:33 am

    Great post

    Seriously, I think it’s important for a commenter to establish sort sort of reportete with the blogger/writer before drilling them on whatever flaws are in the writing.

    I know she won’t mind me mentioning this, but Cameron started out commenting my blog by saying nice things then asking if she could email me some critiques for my robots novels (now called Hybrids). I thought that was classy and it made us great friends.

    When you do reach the critique level, I think it’s important to find parts of the post that are good and mention them first. You are disecting someone’s baby, their writing. Then use the techniques you list, which are spot on.

    • k~
      March 19, 2012 | 8:20 pm

      Oh you dawg, you beat me to the obvious punchline! (winkZ)

      Sensitive writers will agree that it is nice to hear something good first, and then the parts that need work. I have usually done it the same way you talked about here, in private, rather than on their blog for the world to see… unless… I know them well enough to know that it is what they would prefer. :-)

      • Nancy
        March 20, 2012 | 2:30 am

        Really, such a good point. A simple email can do so much good, and it doesn’t take much time at all.

  2. Julia
    March 19, 2012 | 7:55 am

    I think as long as it’s written constructively and with sensitivity, critiquing is a great thing. I welcome it. That is one of the reasons I was eager to join a writing community- to learn from others and to improve my writing.
    There is definitely a wrong way and a right way of doing it though- and it’s imperative to remember that. I definitely wouldn’t want anyone to take offense to anything I would say to them and to just think of it as helpful suggestions or ideas.
    I think your suggestions are good, Nancy, on how to go about this.

    • Nancy
      March 20, 2012 | 2:31 am

      I’m so glad.

      And that’s one of the reasons I wrote this. I think so many people long for concrit, but fear offending.

  3. Tonya
    March 19, 2012 | 11:37 am

    Important suggestions for true writers and those open to con crit. Thanks, Nancy.

    • Nancy
      March 20, 2012 | 2:32 am

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

      I think we all need to start somewhere….and it doesn’t have to be a big deal…just pointing out something you love, and maybe helping the writer if he/she has a question.

  4. SAM (Stephanie)
    March 19, 2012 | 11:58 am

    I totally agree. When I ask specific questions (like on a piece I wrote Thursday), the feedback I got was amazing. I was able to turn an okay piece that was crammed with 4 prompts into a fantastic piece that fit 3, made more sense to my readers, and left me mulling over the next scene. When I receive concrit, it really makes my day. I like the great writing, but I like the reasons why it was a great piece even better.

    • Nancy
      March 20, 2012 | 2:33 am

      Yes. It’s great to write something, but it’s magical to see it become what it could be.

  5. angela
    March 19, 2012 | 12:20 pm

    I think these are great tips; it can be tough to concrit when people are putting their work out there, but it is so helpful for growth. I love the idea of asking for specific feedback if that’s what the writer wants.

    • Nancy
      March 20, 2012 | 2:33 am

      It helps the writer control the feedback, if that makes sense.

  6. Kathleen Basi
    March 19, 2012 | 1:31 pm

    I’ve noticed many things I’ve wanted to say since started WOE prompts; all too often I’ve hesitated, thinking that I don’t have a relationship and thus I can’t do so. But I *love* when people give me critiques–real crit’s–and I definitely always get more of them when I remember to tag a simple “concrits welcome.” I like the specific questions idea.

    • Nancy
      March 20, 2012 | 2:34 am

      Yes, sometimes even saying, “Please, give me concrit” opens the door.

      I get it. It’s your darling you’re putting out there.

  7. k~
    March 19, 2012 | 8:17 pm

    Great post! (just kidding)

    Seriously, there are some good pointers in there, and even a fill-in-the-blanks map to follow. I know I enjoy constructive criticism from my peers, and I would love to say that I provide it, the truth is that I am equally as guilty of the hit and run message too. (tips her hat to one side and smiles) Now you have made me aware, again, so I will be more inclined to either post something that MEANS something, or not at all. :-)

    • Nancy
      March 20, 2012 | 2:35 am

      I think we’re all guilty of the comment-and-run. Part of the problem is that concrit requires both thoughtfulness and time….but it’s a lovely thing, when people give the time for something we care about.

  8. RemembeRED: Hope | Write On Edge
    March 20, 2012 | 3:00 am

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