Giving Constructive Criticism

Being a writer is terribly difficult because, for many of us, our writing is deeply personal. We put our own time and energy into what we write, and that time and energy is often accompanied by a part of ourselves. The idea of giving our work to someone only to have it criticised can be terribly demoralising, thus while it is important to understand how to receive constructive criticism, it is also important to understand how to give constructive criticism.

What is Constructive Criticism?

Constructive criticism is not criticism for the sake of pointing out faults and flaws, nor is it criticism for the sake of being negative about something. Constructive criticism is defined as:

“criticism kindly meant that has a goal of improving some area of another person’s life or work”

 – Wise Geek

Note the use of the word ‘kindly’ and the phrase ‘goal of improving’. Constructive criticism is not about being mean and this is something that both the giver and receiver of constructive criticism should keep in mind. Keeping in mind it has a ‘goal of improving’, constructive criticism should be a positive experience for everyone involved. It is not about shredding a creative piece apart, but about constructing it with strong foundations to make it strong and worthy of its place in the literary skyline.

How do you give constructive criticism?

Rather than offering brusque, negative comments like “I didn’t like it” or “it was pretty crappy so I couldn’t read past the first paragraph”, constructive criticism asks you to be constructive in your criticism. Explain why you did not like it, or what it was that made the work ‘crappy’ in your opinion. Don’t be afraid of saying something ‘negative’ about the creative piece – after all, if it’s constructive, it’s not negative, just remember: the goal is to improve the work.

The easiest way to give constructive criticism is to explain your opinion. Explain to the writer exactly what it is you did and didn’t like about the work. Give your opinion (I dis/liked it), then your reason (because … ), and then point out a particular example (in the paragraph when you described … ).

Use the sentence starters what worked well for me and what would work better for me (if the writer was to re-write the piece) to help articulate constructive criticism.

Compare the following:

The beginning was boring.


What would work better for me would be less description in the opening paragraph; I wanted to get to the action sooner.

If you are more confident about giving feedback, go into more detail about what did and didn’t work for you in the piece. If the writer has specifically asked for feedback on certain aspects of their work, be sure to focus on those areas. Alternately, you might ask yourself the following questions in order to provide quality constructive criticism:

What was interesting about the piece?
Did you find the setting plausible? Was the writing compelling? If there was nothing interesting about the piece, question yourself as to why you found it boring or uninteresting: Is the genre different to what you normally read? Did you struggle to believe the world that was constructed in the story? Was the writing too descriptive or not descriptive enough?

Could I relate to the characters?
This is a vital part to any piece of writing and if you cannot relate to the characters then the writer needs to know. If you can relate to the characters, explain why you feel like you could be friends with them. If you cannot relate to the characters, explain why you would prefer not to get stuck sitting next to them at a dinner party. What qualities do the characters have that make you like/dislike them?

Who would I recommend this piece to?
A big part of the reading process is being able to recommend a book to your friends – and if you can’t think of anyone to recommend the creative piece to, then the writer needs to know why. It’s also very helpful for the writer to know if they’ve appealed to their target audience. If you’re more comfortable recommending a creative piece to your eight year old cousin than to your sixteen year old best friend, explain to the writer why this is so. Why are you making such a recommendation? What makes you think the piece would be more enjoyed by a boy than a girl? Why do you think the plot is more appealing to a teenager than to an adult?

Why would I keep reading this piece?
Is it well-written? Do you care about what happens to the characters? Ask yourself the question after every paragraph – unless you’re so absorbed in the plot and characters that you cannot think beyond what will happen next!

Constructive criticism is feedback that will improve the creative piece. If your feedback is not constructive and does not have this underlying intention to better the creative work, then your feedback is not constructive criticism but mere criticism – and no one likes a critic.

This month I am facilitating a workshop Critique vs Criticism, presented by Budding Writers League. If you’re in Singapore and interested in learning more about giving quality constructive criticism, sign up for a seat and come on by!

This post originally appeared on Budding Writers League and can be viewed here.


28 comments on “Giving Constructive Criticism

  1. Pingback: The Blogger In Me « Candid Concourse

  2. Pingback: Constructive Criticism | Unemployblog

  3. Pingback: CB: Criticism Part II « doyoumeanwhatiknow

  4. Pingback: My Weekly Writing Wish for You « dodging commas

  5. This is so helpful. There is a real art to giving constructive criticism, and I think a lot of people forget that giving positive feedback is just as important as the negative. After all, we need to know what we’re doing right so we can keep doing it!

    I believe delivery is also crucial. I find a negative lead by a positive is always a good way to go. If you’re too brutal then I find there is a tendency for the author to spend more time getting defensive and worrying about how rubbish they are, than taking on board the feedback given in order to help improve the work, which is obviously unproductive.

    Great post Stef, and loving the new look! 🙂

    • Glad you found it helpful! I actually love constructive criticism – when it’s done properly. I especially love receiving it, though there’s an art to that, too!

      The new look is “under-construction”. It was a bit spontaneous yesterday and then I had to go to work! Eek! Glad you’re loving it – more to come so stay tuned! 😀

  6. Great post – as a writer I have no issues with constructive criticism or even a negative thing said about my writing, so long as its got some kernel of truth or useful feedback that can allow me to better myself.
    Sadly, this is not something I have too many folks to ask of, hence my blogging more often the past year or so. At least here, few and sporadic though they may be, at least I get better feedback from some regular visitors and from online friends who I know will give me something to work with.

  7. This is something that I saw a lot of people struggle with when I was going to school. I was very thankful to take workshop style classes where you were graded on how constructive your critisism was- not only your personal work. Its a very important part of the writing proccess, not only for the person recieving the advice, but the giver, as you do learn along the way. I’ve heard of a course that is known for having very harsh critisism, it encourages the students to break each other down and not hold back on thier edits so that they can handle critisism in the real world better, lots of stories about crying etc- Not sure how I felt about that.

    • It’s great when courses reward the quality of the constructive criticism offered and not just your ability to write. As you say, it’s terribly important! Though I don’t think I need to be severely criticised in order to learn how to handle criticism in “the real world” – sounds painful! We need to view constructive criticism as good, not evil!

  8. What worked for me about this post was that you started off with a picture of Statler and Waldorf. Brilliant! 😀

    In all seriousness, twas a great post, Stef. Constructive criticism is HARD, for both parties, and you did a wonderful job of simplifying the process.

  9. This was good for me to hear because I am reading someone’s work in order to give a review, and my book group is reading my unpublished book for our meeting next month and I have to be prepared for what they have to say…

  10. I really enjoyed this article! I am a moderator on a writing site, and several of our newbies don’t understand constructive critism very well, despite its importance in our development as writers.

    In any case, excellent piece!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it! I, too, have experienced the confusion associated with giving and receiving constructive criticism! Fortunately, I’ve spent many years doing both – and I have a very clever mother who has some fantastic ideas around positive language! It makes such a difference when you’re critiquing work. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s