When done well, constructive feedback serves as a valuable resource for a writer. It reveals plot holes, issues with character motivation, weakness in the writing, and dozens of other issues which hold the work from reaching its full potential. However not all feedback is created the same. A bad set of comments can be just as useless as not doing any in the first place.
Here are a few do’s and don’t’s of critiquing in order to make your feedback–and the writer’s writing–better.
Do: Try to figure out what the writer is trying to say.
The writer–whether they know it or not–is trying to communicate something to their reader. See if you can find the message within the the paragraphs and sentences. This may take some digging depending on the amount of polish in the draft. Then record what you think is being said. This way the writer will know whether or not they’re coming through clearly.
Don’t: Close your mind
If you end up critiquing a piece of writing that you can’t stand, don’t let your dislike cloud your ability to help the writer. You’re in a position to see the work from a different point of view than a reader who loves the genre. Look at it from a technical standpoint. Do the character motivations make sense? Are there any obvious plot holes? Point them out, politely.
Do: Read through the piece twice
The first time you read anything you’re critiquing, you’re going to pick up the most obvious issues like continuity issues and awkward dialogue. Once those issues have been noted, you’ll be able to focus on the smaller details. Grammar issues will stand out, and so will the little inconsistencies that just don’t seem right upon close inspection.
Don’t: Simply say “This is great!”
Fluffy feedback that praises everything a writer does as if it’s pure gold must be one of the most frustrating kind of critique. Readers occasionally feel like they’re in a tight spot between being honest and hurting the writer’s feelings. So they avoid anything that might damage their relationship with the writer. Remember that the writer values your opinion, otherwise they wouldn’t have asked for a critique.
Do: Take note of what the writer does well
More often than not, critiques tend to focus on the aspects that need improvement within a piece of writing. That’s not a bad thing as those weaknesses need to be addressed, but a writer also needs to know what they do well. Are they particularly good at witty dialogue? Do they create a creepy setting that makes your skin crawl? Let them know.
Don’t: Forget to enjoy the read
Feedback should be a top priority since that’s the purpose of a critique. But don’t feel bad if you reach the final page and suddenly realize that you forgot to comment on the writing. Make sure to take note of what you enjoyed about the piece and let the writer know. Then just go back to the beginning and reread the piece with the mindset of giving constructive feedback.