Sunday, March 7, 2010

Critique Carefully

One of my students reminded me last week how dangerous criticism can be when wielded carelessly or thoughtlessly.

During my previous class I'd spoken on the value of judging for realising the shortfalls in one's own writing, but that when critiquing, either on paper or face-to-face, it was important to remember the golden rule: Praise...Constructively Criticise....Praise.

My student said she had gone to her first face-to-face writers' group a few days later and her work had been the first to be critiqued by the group of twelve. "I'm pretty thick-skinned," she said, "but the way some of my group laid into my work was....awful!"

Fortunately my student is a pretty strong character and 'very politely' repeated to her group of fellow writers the advice I'd given in my previous class: that it was important to start with praise before highlighting areas for improvement, finishing on an encouraging note.

The rest of the session went just fine, she said, with everyone having taken on board the potentially damaging effects of unbridled criticism.

After the class, another member of the group told her, "My work is due to be critiqued next month and if you hadn't said what you did I was going to pull out of the group."

I guess the moral is, passing judgement on another's work is a big responsibility.