Critique Guidelines for Writers

Overall Roles 

Of the Writer Whose Work is Being Discussed 

1. Introduce the manuscript.

2.  Read or share it to the group (or have someone else read it). Unless your work was emailed ahead of time and members are coming in with their comments already prepared. 

3. Absorb the feedback. 

4. Ask questions if you need more information to understand the feedback. 

5.  Later on, after you have time to absorb the feedback, decide which advice to take (you don’t have to agree to make changes in your meeting).                                                                                                                                        

Of the Critiquer 

1. Suggest ways to strengthen the story. 

2. Point out where the story may need tightening or clarifying.

3.  Use “I” statements rather than “You” statements. For ex: “I like how you use active verbs,” or “I am confused by…“ 

4.  Keep in mind that your comments are your thoughts and can easily be subjective, so try to review work from the perspective of the general population (children age X) or a specific population (i.e., librarian, teacher, social worker, etc.). Remember the Writer has his/her own vision for his/her story. You are there to help enhance it, not re-do it for them, nor to ask that s/he re-create it the way you would prefer to see it according to your own personal vision.

Process Suggestions 

When You are Being Critiqued

1.  Introduce your manuscript.

2.  ​​Identify the genre and details of the work being reviewed today: “the first draft of a picture book” or “the second chapter of a middle grade novel” etc.

3.  Identify the intended audience: “3 – 5-year-olds” or “middle graders” etc.

4.  Do not make excuses or explain: “This is a really rough draft…”  As Linda Sue Park, Newberry Winner and SCBWI Board member, states on her website: “…the work must stand or fall on its own. When the piece eventually gets submitted and is read by the editor, the Writer won’t be there to say things like, ‘Well what I meant there is…’ or ‘That’s supposed to refer back to…’ “

5.  Read (or ask someone else to read) the manuscript straight through, with no digressions or side remarks. You may find yourself circling or underlining problem areas you hear when it is being read aloud, but do that quickly and quietly.

6.  You may explain the intention or goal of the story in response to critiques, but do not argue with the comments.​ If you don’t agree with it, do so silently and let it go.

7.  Some groups prefer guidelines that encourage the writer to just listen as the group discusses the work. ​​

8.  You, the Writer, always has the option of setting aside any critiques you feel do not apply. Remember not do that out loud. Ultimately, it is your story, and the final judgement is yours.

 When You are the One Providing the Critique

1.  Take notes during when you are reading through the manuscript. Be sure your notes are legible and the suggestions are clear so you can provide feedback effectively when it is your turn.

2.  If you are adding notes directly onto a copy of the manuscript, one idea is to put a (+) by the things you like, a minus (-) by the ones you don’t, and a question mark (?) where you get confused or didn’t understand something. (If you think something was funny add a LOL! or smiley face.)

3.  If you notice minor spelling or punctuation errors, note them directly on the copy and don’t mention them in your verbal analysis. That just takes up precious time.

4.  It’s okay to disagree with another member’s analyses. Someone else may find fault with the writer’s vocabulary choices; if you disagree, say so and explain why…good naturedly. Writers need to have a range of choices and opinions when it’s time to revise.

5.  Above all else, be constructive. Your comments aren’t designed to showcase your brilliant analytical powers (or your crappy day), but to help another writer create better work.

6.  If you are writing on a blank paper instead of a copy of the manuscript, include the title or chapter # or other references for the convenience of the writer.

7.  It’s okay to ask the reader to re-read a short section (if the work is being read aloud and comments not prepared ahead of time.)

8.  Add your name and date and hand your notes or return the manuscript with your comments to the Writer after verbal critiques are done so s/he can review it again at home.

9. Be sensitive to feelings:

         Start each critique with a positive statement, even if it’s only, “This has a lot of promise,” or “This is better” or “Nice title…good humor…great phrase…etc.”.

         Make sure your verbal critiques are brief and clear. If you have trouble being brief, consider giving only the most important suggestions verbally, then let your notes do the rest.​

·        Don’t compare the Writer to others in your group.

·        Direct the comments about the actual work you are reviewing–not the Writer’s abilities. For example: “You aren’t very good at showing us character” (not helpful). Instead use: “I don’t see your main character clearly” (helpful). 

·        Don’t push for change, even if you are sure the grammar, tense or anything else is incorrect. 

·        How your comments are offered is just as important as what is offered. Not helpful: “There’s no way a 9-year-old would say that.” And: “Your hero is way too adult.” Instead offer suggestions like, “I’m not sure I’ve heard a 9-year-old use words like that.” Or “Are you writing for MG? When I read your manuscript, I thought I was reading YA because the hero sounded more mature than what I’m used to reading in MG books.” 

·        Do not make a suggestion more than twice, no matter how strongly you feel about it. The Writer owns the responsibility for any changes to her/his story. 

·        No need to say more than, “I agree with (another Critiquer) about _____” when someone else has already pointed out a problem or a job well done. Don’t go into detail. Instead, move on to your next piece of feedback.

(Kind thanks to SCBWI New Jersey for this information. Additional edits by CenCal.)