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tWR Guide: How to Give Feedback

Journal Entry: Tue Sep 21, 2010, 4:01 PM

Critiquing is selfless. It’s helping someone else without getting anything back, apart from a thank you or maybe a critique in return. And this is why making a good critique is more difficult than writing a good feedback question: many, many people will simply give a half-thought comment. Critiquing requires time, and the time you spend writing the critique is not productive to you, at least not directly, and thus the majority of people see it as a bit of a waste of time.

We can try to hide such a fact, but that’s just the way it is, and truth be told I am sure that all of us, at least once, have avoided critiquing on a piece in their inbox and just left a regular comment instead because we couldn’t be bothered. In order to ensure that critique remains an integral part of this group, we have a rule that each submission must be accompanied by a critique given to another deviation inside the group within one week of the submission. It might seem demanding, so this guide will help you critique more effectively and efficiently.

Putting Together a Good Critique

Before you start:

The first thing you must look at when preparing to write a critique is the deviation description. Of course, our group is focused on feedback, so all pieces we submit have a request, but what if you wanted to critique on a random piece of literature from deviantART?

The deviation description will still give you important insight to the deviant's inspiration and technique, which are valuable things to know for writing a critique. Also, keep in mind that not all deviants will want a critique on their writing. Be respectful of that, and not only: always keep your critiques/comments polite and friendly. We’re here to help each other, and a :) here and there won’t hurt anybody.

Other things to consider before starting:
So, narrowing down the case to our group, what to do after you've read both the piece and the feedback request of the writer?

To successfully critique a piece of literature, you needn’t have any exceptional knowledge, granted. However, consider a few things before starting off:
The first surely is this one: always compare your knowledge to the one of the deviant whose piece you are critiquing. Most probably, unless your knowledge is superior to the other deviant’s, you won’t be able to give a helpful critique. If you try to critique one of my pieces, but my grammar is better than yours, you probably won’t be able to point out the grammar mistakes I may have made here and there, for obvious reasons. And so on.
However, even if you're a new writer and you don't have a wide knowledge base, your opinion is still valuable. Don't hesitate to give a critique simply because you don't think you're knowledgeable enough. Just give it a shot!

Of course, if you know that your knowledge is not superior to the other deviant’s one, you might want to focus on a different deviation. But in most cases it’s not a single critique that will help a deviant, but separate parts of different critiques.
Practice makes perfect, and thus, my suggestion is to find the right balance between these two considerations. Don’t step on ice which is too thin, but don’t be afraid to take a step forward.

Now, how do you write a good critique?

As we’ve all agreed on the beauty of our previous guinea-pig choice in How to Ask For Feedback, let’s use it again for this guide too. For the newcomers, this is it:
Lilacs are growing in the pond
where I first kissed my lover
I had eggs for breakfast
But I love him so much
I want to go back to the lilac pond

This time, I will build up my own feedback question, following the instructions on the previous tWR guide. Feedback request is as follows:
I’m not sure that my imagery is very consistent, considering also the sudden change of subject in the third line. Does the repetition (the way the end mirrors the start) work in making it seem “longing”, and how do you think I could make the poem feel more coherent from beginning to end? I really don’t like how the third verse clashes with the rest, what are your thoughts on this issue? Should I just take it all out, or is there some remaining hope for its survival? Any other critique you may offer is welcome, of course.

The first thing to do is to read the feedback request at least twice. Particularly when it’s specific, it tends to get longer and a second look never hurts! Don’t hesitate to keep going back to it to remember what they’re asking you about.

Another good idea is to divide the critique either into paragraphs or bullet points (one for each question); it keeps things tidy.

The second step will be analyzing what you just read. For each single question, you most likely will have to go through the whole piece again. Which isn’t such a big deal for poetry, but it often is for long prose, so be prepared to spend some time on it.
This is important, because you have to truly understand what the question is about and what it asks. Once you understand it, then giving an answer is so much easier, believe me. So grab your dictionaries if need be, but be sure of what you read.

First question – is the imagery consistent?
Consistent is an equivalent of “constant” or “coherent” throughout the piece. And most often, it is another way of asking if the imagery is effective or not. So after reading this question (and knowing what exactly it asks me), I first will give my short answer, and afterwords explain the reasons behind it.
The imagery is not consistent, because of the third verse disrupting the whole composition. I don’t know what led you to choose this as middle line for the poem, but I would definitely consider taking it out and substituting it with a different one. Of course, it did make me giggle, but I don’t know if that was what you were aiming for.
As you see, I wasn’t particularly brief, but I also didn’t go over the same thing again and again.  Consider that particularly when pointing out a 'negative' fact, twisting the knife is never a nice idea. And remember: don’t be too short, but not too long either.
Say all that is needed to explain your answer, but don’t repeat yourself unnecessarily.

Second question – does the repetition work in making it seem “longing”, and how could I make the whole composition feel more coherent from beginning to end?
These are two questions, of course, but they can be answered to together, as they are connected in some way. Again I will first answer to the question, then explain everything.
The repetition works, and surely helps the whole poem feel coherent; by bringing up again the same “peculiar” words both in the first verse and in the last, it all seems a circle of sorts, and that works greatly. However, the “I had eggs for breakfast” verse stands out far too much, and funnily enough, I can’t read the poem without being attracted to that precise passage… and as that (from a purely logical point of view) seems like the least important part of the poem AND it’s what makes the poem itself incoherent, I would recommend again to either take it out or change it.
Here I wrote a longer paragraph. You can see that I ended up giving an answer which is (at least partly) based on the same reason that led me to give the answer to the first question: the third verse of our guinea-pig. A lot of the times, you will notice, the majority of the problems of a piece of writing are hidden behind one true reason, and one only. Be it vocabulary, structure or grammar, or imagery, or incoherence, or an excessive coherence, often you will notice that all the issues can be grouped under a bigger one which is the only actual problem from which all the others originate.

Third question – I really don’t like how the third verse clashes with the rest, what are your thoughts on this issue? Should I just take it all out, or is there some remaining hope for its survival?
To this question I already answered in the first answer.
Another thing to remember when writing a critique is that you aren’t forced to “limit” your answer to a question at a time. If you see some questions can be answered to together, then do it and create a well-written paragraph with all explained properly.

In conclusion:

Critiques are like letters, sent to another (often unknown) deviant. I’d suggest you to create a beginning, a middle part, and an end for it: first of all, because everything is kept tidier and is easier to read, and second, because I feel that the critique is more “personal” like that. Introduce your critique by writing a short paragraph about the piece: what you thought when you read it, what you liked of it, what are its strongest points and things like these. Then in the middle part, write your critique: always remember to not be unnecessarily cruel or harsh, but also remind that you shouldn't lie about what you are reading. If it needs improving, it needs improving: though you surely needn’t threaten the deviant with a gun or humiliate them to show them this. In the ending, be sure to point out again what you think were the best things of the deviation, particularly if you have given a tough critique, and be supportive: it will help the deviant feel more confident again, and less discouraged or disappointed.

Always be polite. The rule should be “sweet firmness, and firm sweetness”. Don’t sugarcoat what you have to say, but don’t cover it in thorns either, okay? There is no need to.

You needn’t be a Premium Member to critique! The fancy “write a critique” button is not that big of a deal, and you can always leave a comment with your critique inside it; you may say that you’d like your watchers to be notified of the pieces you critique, like it happens when you submit an 'official' one: well, why not making a journal entry with a link to all the critiques and the pieces they’ve been written for, updated monthly or weekly? :thumbsup: Don’t use your ~ as an excuse.

You will improve with time; practice makes perfect. At the beginning, it will take you longer to write shorter critiques, it’s obvious: your mind has to get used to a different way of seeing things, it has to get used to “dissecting” what it reads and analyzing it. “I don’t have anything to say” is often not the true answer, it’s just that is difficult, at first, to look at a deviation with a critic’s eye.

Last but not least, be patient. If you just have only a couple minutes to spare, don’t rush things. Either leave it for when you have time or, if you prefer, leave the critique half-finished (though you shouldn’t let too much time pass by before you finish it), but don’t just write it down fast, it won’t do any good like that.

If you missed it, here's How to Ask for Feedback.

NOTE: Before the amalgamation of journals and news articles, this blog was posted as a news article. :flame:

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