What Works…and What Doesn’t

by Gregory A. Kompes

Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

When I teach my English composition students how to begin critiquing their peer’s work they are often hesitant. So many of them don’t feel “qualified” to offer critique or feedback because they’re new to writing themselves. I’m often asked, “How can I critique someone when I don’t feel I know what I’m doing with writing.”

It’s a good question.

But, we all know far more than we give ourselves credit for. We’ve been reading books and articles and textbooks and cookbooks and blogs and letters and emails and all sort of written work almost our entire lives. We also watch television shows and movies. And, hopefully, we were read to as children. All of this consumption of content gives us a foundation in storytelling…and thus a foundation from which to offer feedback to others.

So, to help my students learn to critique, I offer two statements as prompts to get them talking about the work-in-progress:

1. What Works?
When offering feedback and critique, it’s important to let the writer know what’s working well. What do you like about their story or essay or memoir or stage play. What have they written that moved you? What phrases or sentences sounded wonderful and evoked the senses. When we know what others like, we can create more of it.

2 What doesn’t work?
Next, explore what didn’t work for you in the text. What phrases or words did you stumble on? Have they offered incorrect word choices? Has the point of view changed? Could they use more emotion or words the evoke the senses? Has the whole passage been written in a passive way with “to be” verbs instead of active verbs? On and on…

And, no matter what you think of a piece of writing, I always recommend “no blood on the floor” critiquing. What does that mean? It means we critique the writing and not the writer. No matter what the content of the work, it’s for us to comment on how it has been written, not judge it for what has been written. After all, we are all colleagues on our own writing journey toward exploring the world through an expression of words.

Bring your own experience and learning to the critique table and as you offer your thoughts you’ll find yourself learning as as a writer from what you give to others.