Ellen’s comment was the favorite this week:
What a coincidence! Today my friend asked me to critique his grad school paper. It was amateurish: poorly written, full of grammatical errors and sentence fragments and very scattered thematically. What sort of constructive comments can I offer to something that I want to rip to shreds? In this case, I’ll work with him on an outline and fix the most glaring spelling errors. Otherwise I’ll just have to agree to disagree on his phrasing and style. At least my undies are on right.
I’m not really that in to them, but here comes another sandwich reference. When I critique someone else’s writing, I try to use a sandwich technique:
First, I offer something I like about the piece. If, in Ellen’s case, I don’t like too much about the writing, it might be difficult to find something. But, especially if I am about to “rip [it] to shreds,” it becomes more important to start with something positive. It seems to lessen the blow of talking about the things I don’t like. So, even if it is only a properly placed period or one single word, I make sure to share that first.
Next comes the meat of the critique. I share what I didn’t like or what I thought could be improved upon. Since I know how difficult it is to accept critique, I’m careful about the way I suggest things. I’m sure to always say that it is just my opinion and of course the author doesn’t have to make the changes. Unless someone asks me to edit as well (or it is something like a grad school paper), I steer clear of spelling and grammar errors and stick to theme or story line.
Last, I try to make a positive statement about the piece as a whole. Again, if I don’t really like it, it might be reminding the person that getting the first draft written is the hard part and at least they have something to work with. Most of the time, I try to praise one of the big things (theme, style, beginning, middle, end, characters, etc.) .
The author whose work I’m critiquing admires my writing or values my opinion enough to ask for my help. But, I am still only human. Reminding myself that I do sometimes get my underwear on inside out helps me treat their work with respect. After all, I know how hard writing can be!