I found an offline writers group back in 2005 and followed as best as I could their critique guidelines – I’m pasting them here (sorry for the long read, will continue in the next post):
Here are a few guidelines for commenting on other people’s work:
Please take the time to read the pieces carefully before the meeting, and to give them serious thought. It’s most helpful to the authors to receive your comments in written form, so that they can concentrate on the discussion rather than on taking notes. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can do a full written critique, otherwise give detailed notes, or write your comments directly on the manuscript.
Take note, though, that there is a difference between critiquing and editing: editing means looking at the piece line by line and commenting on details, while critiquing means taking an overall look at the piece and its larger aims. Editing is always valuable of course, and the authors will certainly be pleased to receive your detailed comments, but our aim in the meetings is to look at the piece as a whole.
Respect the type of work that is being offered. If someone offers a romantic story, it’s no use criticizing it because you’d prefer something more literary. The question is, has the author succeeded in what he or she is trying to do?
Be tactful. Thoughtless comments may put people off writing altogether. Look for the strong points in a piece of writing, not only the weak points.
What should you look for when you’re commenting on someone’s work?
– Start by looking at the piece as a whole. What kind of overall impression does it give? What do you think was the author’s aim in writing the piece? How does the author achieve this aim? Is she or he successful?
– Is the piece an excerpt from a longer work (e.g. a chapter from a novel)? How do you think it will fit into the work as a whole? How does the writer capture her/his readers’ interest, and ensure that they will want to keep reading?
– Is the style appropriate for the piece? What about pace: does it move quickly or slowly, and does it do so in the right places? In a fiction piece, you’ll probably want to comment on characterization and setting as well.
– Now look at the piece in more detail. Which points do you find particularly successful? Are there some which require more work?