Giving a great critique is not as simple as pointing out what you like and what you don’t like and then writing it down. Take the time and effort to create valuable and well-rounded feedback with suggestions for improvement and be sensitive in your delivery and tone. Use the following tips to help get it right!
1. Keep in mind your partner’s goals throughout the critique.
Prior to looking at your partner’s work you should ask her exactly what type of critique she wants. Here is a list of things you might look out for – ask her to choose a few for both of your benefits. The more clearly you state your goals to each other, the better. Keeping these goals in mind while you read her work should help you to focus on delivering exactly the feedback that she is looking for.
2. Be sure that you know exactly what stage your partner’s manuscript is at.
If this is the first draft, then the kind of critique you give will be very different to the critique of a manuscript that is almost ready for query.
First draft critiques will focus on the bigger picture: character development, plot, writing style; while manuscripts ready for submission might need a more mechanical critique: punctuation, sentence structure and grammar mistakes.
3. Focus on the big picture stuff unless asked otherwise.
In general, critiquers should avoid focusing on mechanical mistakes— this is usually left to editors – except in certain circumstances (a manuscript that is ready to be submitted, non-fiction work, works for contests).
If there are several mechanical mistakes, then rather than doing line by line edits make a general comment about them pointing out briefly which areas need work. Be sure to spend more time and energy on the general feedback and until you are entirely comfortable with each other, pull back on the specifics.
4. Take the time and effort to offer a critique that is well-thought out and valuable.
It’s better to give no critique at all than to rush off a message that is vague and leaves your partner guessing the meaning of what you wrote.
Set aside 30 minutes to an hour of uninterrupted time to really read the piece, make thorough notes and think about suggestions for improvement. Make solid suggestions for improvement. Don’t be vague.
5. Critique the writing, not the writer.
Your feedback should be directed at the writing, not the writer, and this is as simple as changing the way you word things. Instead of starting your comments with “You/ Your”, start them with “The sentence/ the paragraph/ the character”.
6. Always begin your feedback with the positives.
Start by talking about what works, and what the strong points are. It’s a nice way to dive in, sets a good tone, and the negative stuff becomes much easier to hear.
7. After writing your feedback, read it through and put yourself in the shoes of your partner.
This allows you to catch any ambiguous phrasing in your feedback, and also to judge whether you expressed yourself clearly. If you received this feedback would it be specific enough, useful to you? Is your message peppered with positives to balance the negatives? Would you be happy to receive this message or does it need clarification (and a bit more sugar?)