Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Positive Criticism

Anyone who's ever had someone else read their work knows that there are three types of critics: those who maul it to death, tearing apart every word; those who fawn over it, praising every metaphor like it belongs on a pedestal; and those who actually have something worthwhile to offer. 

This Friday, I'm supposed to present on a topic of my choice that can be incorporated into peer editing. I choose to do constructive criticism, which I kept accidentally calling "positive criticism." The more I thought about it, the more I realized my slip of the tongue wasn't necessarily an accident. We have this whole negative connotation with criticism, picturing it as an attack on us, or someone telling us we're no good. But it can be so much more than that. Thoughtful constructive criticism can be extremely helpful, like visiting a personal trainer: it will tell you what you're doing right, and what you can do to be even better.

Just as no one wants a trainer who tells them they're too fat or too slow, no one wants to hear that their writing is too flowery or too sparse. While we can't control how others critique (except by choosing who we show our work too), here are a few ways I've found to help make us better critics, and hopefully give criticism a better name:

  • Avoid “You” Statements: Instead of: “You have a lot of comma splices.” Try something like: “There are a few comma splices in this paragraph.”
  • Avoid “Can’t/Need Statements” Instead of: “You can’t have that as a title.” or “You need to change the title.”
  • The Sandwich Technique: “The bread consists of very specific positive feedback (a compliment), and the ‘meat in the middle’ is the constructive criticism.”Example: The hook is captivating, but this next sentence seems week in comparison. Your thesis is strong, so with that small adjustment you’ll have a strong introduction.
  • Incorporate If-Would Statements: “If you could elaborate on what you mean there, you would have a strong introduction"
Any other suggestions? Anyone have any critique love or horror stories you wish to share?
 

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