FAQ: CRIT guidelines (February 1997)

Location: http://web.mit.edu/afs/mbarker/www/faqs/critfaq.html
Don't forget to read the companion piece, FAQ: SUB guidelines (February 1997) for some thoughts on how to make a SUBmission.

CRITiquing, responding to the SUBmissions of others, is a vital part of this workshop. However, it is important to realize when you are writing a critique that it is not enough to simply be critical. In fact, the most important part of the critique is saying what worked well, not just pointing out problems.

CRITical nits

  1. Where do I send a Critique?
  2. Critiques may be returned by private email directly to the writer or be posted to WRITERS@mitvma.mit.edu. Use the subject line from the original submission and change the SUB: to CRIT: to identify this as a critique. For example, the subject line might look like

    -Subject: CRIT: Scribed in Jello (Romantic Farce)

    Some reasons to use private email for crit:

    1. to avoid embarrassing the author
    2. to keep lengthy, individual comments or discussion offline
    Some reasons to use the list for crit:
    1. to allow others to comment, especially on questionable calls
    2. to provide mutual education to the entire list
    3. to encourage insights and debate

  3. What Should Be in a Critique?
    1. Answers to Specific Questions
    2. If the poster had specific questions, try to answer them if you can.

    3. Quick Responses
    4. These are fine. Say you liked it, disliked it, couldn't finish it, couldn't sleep after reading it.. whatever accurately reflects your impression of the piece.

    5. Would you buy it?
    6. A little bit more - when possible, you may want to note whether you would read it if you saw it in a magazine. Would you buy a magazine to finish the story if you started to read it at the news stand or bookstore?

    7. Points to fix
    8. Yet another slice of skin - Describe any points to fix, as clearly and accurately as possible. Some people can do this with a short comment, others do better with a line-by-line comment. e.g.

      > comment, others do better with a line-by-line comment

      comment at the end is the second time you've used the word, and isn't exactly correct. how about "format for commenting"?

    9. Line-by-line editing
    10. If you do this, indent the copy from the writer and mark it with "> " or "- " (many email programs and editors can do this automatically - see your manual). Add a blank line where you are going to comment, then insert your comments on a blank line between the copied parts (i.e. put a blank line before and after your comments to make it stand out from the copied material). REMOVE the extra copied material that isn't needed to understand your comments.

      If you have general comments, you can include those either before or after the line-by-line edited parts.

    11. Positive Points, Too!
    12. Whenever possible, point out positive points. Let the writer know when they have done something good!

    13. At least a clue about solving problems
    14. When pointing to problems, suggest alternatives and ways to correct the problem. This is where I think actually rewriting a section can be very helpful in making both the problem and the solution clear. I also find that having pointed out a problem and tried to work out a solution myself helps me to understand the problem better, which means I have gained from doing the critique. However, be aware that some writers do not want to see rewrites (this doesn't mean you can't do them for your own education - just don't send them to writers who object to your efforts.)

  4. Be wary of technical terms
  5. If you want to use technical terms, this is appropriate. However, be aware that the person you are critiquing may not have read the same books on writing that you have (Jardon's Comments on a Theory of Mathematical Solutions to Conflicts isn't everyone's favorite reading?). So if you use special terms (or even common terms in special ways), you may want to include either a brief explanation (preferred) or a reference (less helpful, but better than nothing). You may include both.

    You may also (when Jardon's forgotten tome is good enough) want to summarize and post a separate TECH: note explaining the terminology and system you know. Again, we are engaged in mutual education and development of creative potential. Your knowledge may be just the spark needed to help someone else - don't be afraid to let us know about it too...

  6. No personal attacks
  7. Personal attacks and similar behavior are NOT critiques. If you want to say something is poorly written, you must also suggest how it can be improved - and not simply accuse the writer of being a bonehead. Always critique the writing - don't assume the writer has a problem, they may have been deliberately using inner-city rhythms and wording no matter how difficult you find it to read...

    Some Related Pieces on Critiquing
    1. TECH: How do you critique?
    2. one method of critiquing
    3. TECH: An Editing Trick
    4. editing by reading aloud
    5. TECH: How to write wel, critique god, and revise bettor
    6. TECH: Some Guidelines For Critiquing
    7. TECH: Critiques (esp. of poetry)
    8. TECH: Help with Critiquing
    9. TECH: The Earthquake Test
    10. more notes on critiquing
    11. TECH: Re: critiquing
    12. a flame about critiquing
    13. TECH: On Critiquing - Twice-Told Tales Again Again? (Michael O...)
    14. reusing stories