How to Critique Another Writer's Work
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How to Critique Another Writer's Work

Critiquing another writer’s work can be a daunting task. This is especially the case if you consider your writing experience is not at the same level as the writer you are critiquing. This article provides a logical procedure for critiquing and the correct etiquette for this important sharing of opinions.

Critiquing another writer’s work can be a daunting task. This is especially the case if you consider your writing experience is not at the same level as the writer you are critiquing. This article provides a logical procedure for critiquing and the correct etiquette for this important sharing of opinions.

Whether you are critiquing fiction or non-fiction writing, there are some things you should keep in mind. Reviewing another writer’s work requires:

  • Sensitivity to the feelings of the writer you are critiquing
  • Politeness in statements made about the writer’s work
  • Honesty about your own writing capabilities
  • Knowledge of correct writing techniques for the type of work you are critiquing
  • A strong knowledge of grammar and punctuation
  • Some knowledge of the writer’s target genre or publishing placement
  • The ability to analyze the work objectively

Critiquing procedure

Discuss the scope of the critique with the writer to ensure each party understands exactly what is expected of the task. For instance, the writer might only want a critique of the overall feel of the story from a reader’s point of view. Conversely, they might be concerned about the structure of the piece (Chapter, partial manuscript) and ask for your opinion as to how this might be improved.

Work out the best method of communication if there is a need to ask questions about any aspect of the work. This could be via e-mail or a phone call – whichever the writer considers appropriate.

Agree to the time allowed to provide the critique. In turn, you must be timely in execution of the work. If there is any reason you can’t fulfill your obligation, contact the writer at the earliest opportunity to explain the situation and perhaps agree to an extension of time.

Be kind with your comments. Do not deride the writer or make fun of any aspect of the work. Be professional. Think how you would feel if somebody were to treat you in this way.

If you are not capable of any aspect of the critiquing process, do not go in over your head. Explain your concerns to the writer and come to an agreement to perhaps eliminate that aspect of the critique. For example, the work might be written in dual or multiple viewpoint and your knowledge of this writing technique could be limited. It is better to be honest about your abilities than to gloss over that aspect of the critique. This applies to non-fiction works as well.

Always critique on a printed paper copy of the work using a red pen to mark the manuscript. Retain a copy of the critique for reference if you need to communicate with the writer after he/she has viewed your comments.

Things to comment on for fiction writing are:

  • General readability including the pace of the story
  • Spelling, grammar and punctuation errors and missed words
  • Any aspect of the story that needs, in your opinion, adjustment, expansion or reduction
  • Advise on any pertinent aspects of characterisation
  • Watch for long sentences and paragraphs that slow the reading of the piece
  • Pay attention to dialogue, dialogue tags, introspection and action statements in dialogue tags and dialogue punctuation
  • Any other aspect of the work that you consider needs change or discussion

For a non-fiction work, comments should be about readability, understanding the subject matter, layout of the work including photographs and diagrams, information flow and any other aspect of the work that makes you stop because you can’t understand the text as written.

In addition to marking the manuscript, provide the writer with a brief report that includes:

  • Why you like the work – characters, storyline etc.
  • Ways to improve the work in bullet pointed format
  • Include a paragraph that indicates that the suggestions are your objective opinion and that it is entirely up to the writer whether he/she makes your suggested changes to the manuscript.
  • Thank the writer for the opportunity to critique their work and offer to repeat the favour in the future if that is what you would like to do.

Summary

Critiquing for writers is an important aspect of building your own writing career. Experience gained in critiquing somebody else’s work will provide benefits for both parties. If you are a reader, your opinion will be invaluable as the bottom line is that the readers of the work, if published, are a writer’s most powerful ally. They can make or break the success of a book.

Each person should learn something from this exercise. Developing a satisfactory critiquing relationship can be very rewarding and it can take time for this to develop. The most important element of critiquing is trust.

Being adept at critiquing is a skill to be valued by any person who takes on the challenge.

Sources:

Personal experience

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