How to Critique: Basic Tips

Critiquing someone else’s work was never a strong point of mine. I mean after all, if you really don’t like something, how are you supposed to say ‘This is awful!’ without hurting a few feelings? It’s a challenge. However, after years of being in workshop classes, and helping critique and edit work outside of class as well as having my own work ripped to ribbons a few times, I think I’ve got a few basic suggestions.

1.      Read it aloud.

This is especially true if you are critiquing a poem. Poetry is meant to be seen, and heard so don’t be afraid to read it out loud to yourself (or your dog/cat/plant/friend/tv). Obey all of the line breaks, commas, periods, dashes, etc. Read the poem EXACTLY as it is written. Mark the areas where you stumble while reading a loud, mark the areas you want to pause at, or the areas you rush through. Notice any repeating sounds, words or ideas. Read it several times.

This works for fiction too. However, unless you have a lot of free time, then I would suggest only reading out loud the paragraphs that give you trouble, where you struggle with what’s going on, or just with how to read it. Make sure it flows and is cohesive, fiction, like poetry, should read well and flow.

2.      Cut out unnecessary words.

Don’t be afraid to take up your pen (or pencil. I am fair supporter of making edits in pencil) and cross out words that don’t add anything. A lot of ‘and’ ‘the’ ‘but’ ‘seemed’ can be cut away without hurting the meaning. Be aware of anything with more than 2 adjectives and question every adverb. I love adverbs but when everything is done slowly, peacefully, quaintly you’re going to annoy even the most patient of readers. Don’t be afraid to mark out things if they aren’t pulling their own weight.

3.      Change your mind.

I think this is one of the most important parts of a critique. I think to give a good critique you have to be willing to be flexible and to change your mind on your own edits. Now I don’t mean be wishy-washy about everything. There will and should absolutely be something that has to be changed, but, if on the second or third read over something you suddenly realize that ‘the’ needs to be there then feel free to change your markings, but explain it. Or maybe you originally hated the title, but after your second time reading it, you see how it does aid the work. Don’t be afraid to backtrack on your original thoughts, BUT do justify why you changed your mind. This way the writer can see differing opinions on something (especially helpful if you are the only one critiquing something).

 And also remember:


Those are just a few basic suggestions for critiques that I’ve thought of over the years. What’s some of your advice about giving someone a critique?


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