How to Critique Someone’s Writing

As a person who makes my living with words, I’m regularly asked to read people’s writing and give feedback. A business plan. A resume. Website copy. A grad school application essay. A profile for an online dating site.

I usually say some variation of yes to the request. But giving feedback is complex. Sometimes the person really wants me re-write the piece, not just give feedback, which makes me feel uncomfortable. People are also vulnerable when they ask for feedback. So I have learned to tread the line between honesty and brutality.

Writers aren’t the only ones who are asked to give this kind of feedback. Everyone gets to play editor from time to time. As friends look for jobs, they need help with resumes and cover letters; children ask for help with essays and papers; bosses and colleagues need to know if a speech or report is up to snuff.

When I’m asked to give feedback, I try to follow the following few ground rules. These guidelines have helped me to be honest yet mindful of people’s feelings. They have also set up some useful boundaries and to create the best environment for helping people.

1. All feedback should include something constructive. When I started teaching seminars for The OpEd Project, the advice I got for reviewing student work was to start with two positive pieces of feedback because people hear constructive/critical feedback better after positive engagement is established. This is probably because of the negativity bias, a psychological phenomenon which causes people to place more emphasis on negative experiences rather than positive ones. {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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One Response to “How to Critique Someone’s Writing”

  1. Jules Says:

    in my critique group, we ask that the person who wrote the piece being critiqued not defend herself or interrupt, just take what she wants from the critique.
    some people need a LOT more stroking than others.

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