Recently I wrote an essay that I wanted to run by a few good readers so I could find out which parts weren't working. Before I had anyone else read it, I spent a good amount of time reading and rereading it, revising and tinkering. Finally, I was ready for someone with a fresh pair of eyes to give me feedback.
I asked my husband to be my first reader, and he gave me several great suggestions, including cutting the last paragraph altogether. (Hmm, and I had read author Lois Lowry's article for the magazine, "Knowing when to quit," not that long ago!)
After incorporating my husband's suggestions, I sent the piece to other readers, including a good friend, who made a couple of astute points of her own. Plus, as a writing-workshop pro, she couched her criticism in positive comments that showed her support.
This technique is just one that writer Melanie Faith advocates in her article, "The art of the critique," which offers helpful tips for writers giving feedback as part of a writing group or degree program. "Follow the praise/suggestion/praise model," Melanie writes. "First, give feedback on what's working in the piece. … Then follow up with the inevitable suggestions. … Finally, finish on an up note. Why this three-pronged approach? Studies have shown that the mind remembers most vividly the first and last pieces of information presented in a series. While you certainly want to make several constructive suggestions for improving the piece, it's also a good rule of thumb to provide equally supportive feedback on what's working well." You can find the full article in our November issue.
Also check out Joni B. Cole's book Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive, another great resource for giving and receiving criticism. In an interview posted on her Web site, Joni responds to a comment that writers are just looking for praise: "What we really want is encouragement. We want a sincere appreciation for our efforts. We want readers to carry us around the room on their shoulders in celebration of what's working fabulously in our piece or shows promise. And in that context, we also want constructive criticism that can clue us in on what's not working in the writing, and how we can make it better." That's it exactly.
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