How to Write a Critique

At some stage in the writing process, most writers want feedback on their work. But not all kinds of feedback are productive. Here are some tips on how to organize a helpful critique and how to get the most out of feedback on your work.

How to Write a Critique: The Critiquer's Role

As a critiquer, your job is to understand the writer's goals and help the writer achieve them.

Every writer has a different voice and approach. It is sometimes tempting to change someone else's piece to make it more like something YOU would have written. Instead, help the writer produce the best possible version of what THEY are trying to write. Consider the piece on its own terms and help it fulfill its potential.

How to Write a Critique: Before the Critique

Before preparing a critique, I suggest reading the piece several times, taking notes on each reading.  Each reading will give you different insights that can benefit the author.

  1. First, read the piece through from beginning to end, simulating the experience of an ordinary reader. Take notes on your first impressions before reading the piece again. This first step is important because your perspective will change during a second reading. Your interpretation of the piece's beginning will be colored by your knowledge of the end.

  2. Read the piece at least once more and take notes again. Subsequent readings will help you develop a global vision of the work's structure and notice additional details.

With each reading, you will have a better perspective on the piece's structure, but you will be in a worse position to judge the unfolding of information and to identify points of confusion.

How to Write a Critique: Suggested Critique Format

Below is a format that I have found to work well for giving critiques.

  1. First, summarize and interpret. At this first stage, you are not judging the piece or offering suggestions. You are just telling the author what you think it is about, and what you think it is trying to do. This is important because it tells the author how well they have succeeded in communicating. It also tells the author if you have understood the piece correctly. If so, the author will take your feedback more seriously. If not, the author knows that any suggestions that follow may actually be based on a misunderstanding of the piece. The author may therefore need to discount these suggestions and work instead on more successfully communicating their vision.

  2. Second, say what you think is working well. Positive feedback can be as useful as criticism. Point out the best parts of the piece and the strengths of the author's writing. This can help the author write more "best parts" in the future and develop their individual talent. Starting with positive feedback also makes it easier for the author to listen to criticism later without becoming defensive or discouraged.

  3. Third, give constructive criticism. Make sure that criticism is respectful and delivered in a form that allows the author to make specific improvements. Authors tend to have high emotional stakes in their work, and may at some level confuse criticism of a story or a poem for criticism of their talent or vision. It is therefore especially important to make your comments as specific as possible and keep them clearly focused on the piece, rather than the author. Give examples from the piece whenever possible to show your points.

How to Write a Critique: Do's and Don'ts


  • Read the piece several times ahead of time
  • Try to experience the piece as an "ordinary reader" before you consider it as a writer or editor
  • Try to understand the author's goals
  • Be specific in your feedback and provide relevant examples


  • Impose your own aesthetics, tastes, or world view
  • Rewrite the story the way YOU would have written it
  • Discourage the author
  • Offer criticisms that are too general to help the author make specific improvements

How to Write a Critique: The Author's Role

I suggest that the author try not to talk at all during an oral critique except to ask clarifying questions at the end (if the author didn't hear or understand something, they can ask the critiquer to repeat or expand on it).

There is a natural tendency for authors to try to explain their work, particularly if they see that the critiquer has not understood it the way they intended. But the author's responses can influence the direction of the critique. The critiquer can end up commenting on the author's explanation of the work, rather than what the author has actually written. The critique can even turn into a debate.

How to Write a Critique: Advice on Receiving a Critique

If you're on the receiving end of a critique, focus on listening and understanding the feedback you receive. You don't have to agree with it. You won't have to follow any of the suggestions you're given.

In fact, some of the suggestions you get are likely to be not-so-useful. You will have to sort them out from the useful ones and make your own decisions. But save this sorting-out for later. Otherwise, the sorting-out process will interfere with your ability to listen. And you'll probably do a better job of sorting out the good advice from the bad if you take some time first to digest everything.

Take careful notes on ALL the feedback and ask questions if there's something you don't understand. Don't argue with the critiquer or defend your piece. Don't even try to explain it.

After the critique, we suggest taking a break before you try to sort the feedback out. Getting a critique can be hard. Relax a little afterwards. Go out with some friends; watch TV; get a good night's sleep. It will improve your perspective.

This break might last twenty-four hours or a couple of weeks -- however long you need to get some emotional distance on the process. Then take a fresh look at what you've written. Reread your notes on the critique.

Which suggestions do you agree with? Which ones do you want to ignore? If you're not sure about a suggestion, do some experimental rewriting. Try it out. There's no risk. If you don't like the result of the revision, you can always trash it and go back to the original version.

Remember: you're the author. You're the one in charge here.

How to Write a Critique: Next Steps

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