If you belong to a writers’ group or have a writing partner, you may be asked to critique someone’s work. Critique is a great way for writers to improve their skills and tweak their manuscripts. At Writer’s Relief, we know it’s important to tread carefully when critiquing another writer’s short story, novel, or poetry. Writing is a very personal craft, and you don’t want to be hurtful or overly aggressive when giving your critique. Critiquing someone else’s writing isn’t always easy—it’s a nuanced process, and may be difficult even if you’ve been expertly editing your own work. These tips for critiquing other writers will help you offer useful insights without bruising any egos.
Our Best Tips For Critiquing Other Writers
- Read thoroughly. When you’re reviewing someone’s writing to critique it, don’t skim or speed-read. Surface-level feedback (“I liked it!”) won’t be helpful to your critique partner. And if you don’t have any details or specific feedback, it will be obvious that you didn’t care enough to thoughtfully read the work.
- Clarify the best critique format for the writer. Some writers prefer to see comments directly on their manuscript, whether that’s with a traditional red pen marking up a hard copy, or using a program like Track Changes. Other writers are better able to process notes if they’re written up in a separate document. And of course, some writers like both. Make sure you know what the writer you’re critiquing prefers before you get started!
- Take careful notes. Don’t rely on your memory alone: Take diligent notes as you’re reading through the manuscript. These initial notes are just for your own use to guide you when creating the final critique.
- Don’t let personal preferences cloud your judgment. Keep in mind the author’s original intent, genre, and their own personal style—some or all of which may not necessarily be the same as yours. Writers who have different backgrounds and areas of expertise can be immensely helpful to each other—but remember, you shouldn’t be asking yourself whether you like the piece. Consider instead whether the manuscript accomplishes what the author set out to do and whether technical elements, like the characters and pacing, are fleshed out well.
- Organize your feedback. Feedback can be overwhelming for the recipient when it’s unorganized—and it’s easier to forget to include an important point if you give your critiques in stream-of-consciousness style. Instead, break your feedback down by which element of the story it’s addressing. The character development and POV, world-building and setting, and plot/pacing are all crucial to a well-written story, and the writer you’re critiquing will be counting on you to make comments on each of these elements.
- Determine where the writer is in the writing process. Are you seeing the writer’s very first draft, or has the manuscript been through a few rounds of edits already? If this is an early draft, you’ll want to be extra careful not to be too harsh with your feedback, as the writer may not have fully polished the work yet. You also may want to keep your feedback to broader points. If they’re further along in the revision process, you can home in more on the details of the work.
- Use clear, specific language. Remember, the ultimate goal of critiquing another writer’s work is to help make it better. Writers aren’t likely to find vague feedback helpful, so make sure you give detailed suggestions! Refer to specific characters, plot points, or even use quotes from the work in your feedback.
- Give a “compliment sandwich.” Start your critique with positive feedback, then offer any criticisms or suggestions, and conclude with additional positive input. This helps the writer feel more encouraged about the entire critique experience. Rather than a list of things wrong with the manuscript, you’ll be giving the writer hope and direction with your criticism.
- Make suggestions, not mandates. Even though your suggestions could very well make the work stronger, you might be taking the manuscript in a direction the writer doesn’t feel comfortable with. And that’s okay! A writer doesn’t have to take all of your advice to find your critiques valuable. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that the writer is happy with their work.
- Invite questions and dialogue. No matter how clear and concise your feedback is, the writer you’re critiquing may not fully grasp it at first. Make sure the writer knows you’re open to talking more about their work and your critique. You can also offer to help the other writer brainstorm new ideas for implementing your changes.
And Our Most Important Advice…
- Watch your tone! Critiquing other writers is an art form of striking the perfect balance between praising without sugarcoating and being constructive without being harsh. A writer will be more open to suggestions that are offered in a polite, good-spirited manner, rather than phrased in a way that could be hurtful. Remember that writing is deeply personal, and sharing your writing even with a trusted critique partner can be very difficult! And your goal is to help the writer you’re critiquing make their work stronger—not to leave a person disheartened and reluctant to ever write again.
When following these tips, keep in mind that any critiques you offer should be actionable. Don’t just point out problems with the manuscript; give your critique partner questions to think about and suggestions for editing and revising. Then you’ll both feel good about the critique experience.
Question: What critique would you find most helpful?