Edited, not Written: How to Critique the Writing of Others

“Great books are edited, not written.” –Author Unknown

Why join a critique group? Frank peer critique is an invaluable tool for any writer. It applauds the clever turn of phrase, the vivid bit of dialogue, the perfectly crafted metaphor. It also ferrets out inconsistencies, calls attention to distractions and gaps, and gently demands more or less when more or less is needed. Good critique acknowledges strengths but also points out weaknesses. It asks questions. Sometimes it even offers solutions. And above all, it considers.

When we critique, we should consider:

  • Dialogue
  • Imagery
  • Description
  • Story arc
  • Tone/Mood
  • Character development
  • Scene setting
  • Grammar and syntax 

Basic questions to ask:

  • What is the writer trying to do with the essay?
  • What techniques, devices, strategies does he/she employ toward that end?
  • How effective are these devices in carrying out the writer’s intent?
  • What’s unclear to you that the writer might clarify in a revision?
  • What suggestions can you offer for revision?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the essay?
  • What works and doesn’t work for you personally?
  • What questions are you left with at the end?

Another great option – Aristotle’s framework for critique:

  • What does it say?
  • How does it say it?
  • How well does it say it?




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