The Best Methods for Giving and Receiving Constructive Criticism
This is a guest post by Kayla Matthews.
Giving and receiving feedback is an important part of being a writer—or any kind of artist, really. But that doesn’t mean it’s always fun. The first time I received a constructive critique of my writing in a professional setting, I left the meeting feeling defeated. Maybe you can relate.
The reality is, however, that the ability to take criticism and channel it into even better writing is important. It might be just as essential as raw writing talent.
On the flipside, when you’re in the position to give constructive criticism, it can be just as tricky as receiving it—especially if you have some harsh truths to share. So why should we care about constructive criticism, and how can we get better at it on both sides?
Here’s a look at the importance of constructive criticism in the writing and editing field and the best way to approach it.
Why constructive criticism is important
Perhaps as a writer, you think your goal should be to create the perfect content. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Your goal is to write something that really speaks to people, informs people or otherwise engages readers.
Less-than-perfect content is totally capable of this—sometimes it works even better. And regardless, it’s unrealistic to think your work is going to be perfect on the first try.
When you allow a peer or a superior to critique your work, you’re opening yourself up to the possibility of something better than perfection: a refined piece of content that’s capable of reaching a broader audience. You’re also going to learn something along the way and become an even better writer yourself.
How to give constructive criticism
If you’re in the position where someone asks you to give feedback on a piece, don’t panic. You don’t have to burn bridges or incite tears to get your point across. Here are a few tried-and-true techniques for doling out tips that will make the process much easier.
Create a rapport first
Before a feedback session can begin, you have to lay the groundwork. That means you should create a safe space where the recipient of the feedback feels comfortable chatting with you, either on a personal or professional level. It will make them much more apt to take your feedback to heart and incorporate it into their writing approach.
Cite specific instances
Criticism is most constructive if it helps the recipient improve. You’re not doing your colleague any favours by giving feedback in vague terms. Be able to point to specific spots in their piece that need some work and explain in no uncertain terms exactly how they can improve upon it.
Put a positive spin on It
Just because you’re pointing out things you perceive as flaws doesn’t mean you have to make it personal or mean-spirited. Try to highlight the positive aspects of the piece you’re critiquing, instead of just harping on the negatives. Of course, any good feedback session requires a balance of both, but make sure it’s just that: a balance.
Be firm and fair
It’s easy to receive a piece for critique and immediately start slashing through sentences with your red pen. Resist this urge. The point of someone asking for feedback is usually because they’re looking for some general guidance, not because they want you to totally decimate their writing. So, try to be fair in your critique without nitpicking.
Choose quality over quantity
On a similar note, make sure you don’t inundate the recipient of your feedback with dozens of pointers. They’ll feel overwhelmed by the information and probably have a hard time incorporating any of your tips. Instead, offer a few specific, high-quality pieces of criticism, and lay out succinct ways to fix them.
How to receive constructive criticism
Maybe you’re not the giver of feedback, you’re the recipient—and you aren’t particularly good at it. If this is the case, here’s a refresher course on how to best accept constructive criticism.
Accept that you need it
No one is perfect—that’s a fact. And that includes you. Don’t expect everything you write to be flawless from the start. That’s why editors exist. Before you go into a meeting with your editor or peer reviewer, remind yourself everyone can benefit from feedback. Receiving it doesn’t make you any less of a talented writer.
Don’t take it personally
To survive a round of constructive criticism, you must remind yourself of this very simple truth: the advice only applies to your writing. It doesn’t say anything about you personally. Take a step back from your content and recognise criticism of it is not criticism of you. That will make feedback much easier to stomach, regardless of how positive or negative it is.
Embrace it as an opportunity
If you’re an avid reader, you probably already know the Harry Potter series got lots of rejection letters before a publisher decided to take it on. Stephen King had publishing houses slam doors in his face initially, too. Yet J.K. Rowling and Stephen King took these opportunities, learned from them, and went on to do great things. You can, too. Think of constructive criticism as a growing opportunity, not as a rejection of your talent and skill.
Take feedback to heart and get better because of it.
Make sure your writing Is ready
There’s no wrong time to ask for feedback. However, you probably aren’t going to get a glowing review from your peer editor if you send them something without so much as spell-checking it. Make sure you feel good about the content you’ve created before you seek constructive criticism, or you could be setting yourself up for a particularly brutal feedback session.
Now you understand how beneficial constructive criticism can be, it’s hard to deny feedback is an integral part of the writing and editing process. So instead of shying away from constructive criticism, learn to embrace it—whether you’re receiving it or giving it. You’ll become a better writer or editor when you do.
Kayla Matthews is a personal and professional productivity journalist and a senior writer for MakeUseOf. You can see more of her work on Productivity Theory, Lifehacker, The Next Web, The Daily Muse and others.