When reviewing another writer's work, it can be difficult to formulate a helpful critique. But fear not: this article will provide some useful tips to teach anyone the art of constructive criticism!
Tip One: Understand That Critiques are for Improvement
In WriterVana, we encourage constructive criticism. When writing a critique, don't approach it with the attitude of finding ways to tell someone that their writing is bad. Think of it as a place to tell someone how to improve from their mistakes or the places they are lacking in.
It's alright to give criticism, such as: "The syntax is a bit repetitive." However, to make that criticism constructive, add on to it by saying something such as: "Combining [Sentence A] with [Sentence B] through a subordinating conjunction can improve the variety in this paragraph. Try to experiment with some semicolons and more coordinating conjunctions. Also, varying the sentence length can improve the rhythm."
Being as concrete as possible can truly help the person you're critiquing to improve.
Instead of saying: "This is confusing."
Try: "I don't understand how your character got from Point A to Point B. It will probably be better if you elaborate on how they got there in the story, so it's clearer for your readers."
Explain why changes need to be made, why lines need to be cut out, why parts are confusing.
On the other hand, critiques are not for blind flattery as well. Some may approach a critique channel with a desire to just receive pointless flattery. However, the majority are here to improve. As the person writing a critique, it's crucial to make sure that you're not offering only compliments to their work. They need to recognize what is wrong to realize how to make things right, which leads to the next point...
Tip Two: Start With Something Good & Relate It
Find something positive to say, and start with that. It's similar to hearing good news first or bad news first. Psychological studies have proven that in this context, in fact, it's better to hear that good news before the delivery of the criticism.
Participants who got the bad news first were in a better mood and were less worried overall than those who got the good news first. However, participants who got the bad news first were less interested in changing their behavior... than those who got the good news first.
Source: Psychology Today
There are many ways that you can start off with something that you like about the writing. Perhaps you like their style of prose, or you like the entrance of the main character, or you like the closing line of the excerpt. Including that compliment at the beginning of the critique can act as a motivating source for the person that you are critiquing.
A common approach to making the constructive criticism softer is to put it within a criticism sandwich: say something good, say something bad, and conclude with something else that's good. However, this approach of sandwiching is not always the best choice. In fact, research has proven that people tend to ignore the middle, which is the criticism. Thus, something such as starting with what's good, then concluding with what's bad, can often be a better approach.
Instead of saying: "The main character's dialogue was good, but the side characters all sound the same." or "The main character's dialogue was good, but the side characters all sound the same. But you did a really great job on the main character's voice!"