Constructive Criticism: What It Is and How to Give It

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Anyone who has ever put there work out there has heard of criticism and everyone with a mouth has probably given a critique of something at some point, usually unasked for and since this is the internet (stupid) probably in the harshest of possible tones. It might surprise many to know that there’s a way to give criticism that’s actually helpful, that will help the person improve if they’re willing to listen. It’s even possible to give that criticism in such a way that they’ll want to listen to it.

When I went to college and majored in creative writing – this was an actual lesson we had to have at the beginning of the semester. Everything about it seemed pretty common sense but in order for all us tender young things to actually learn and progress rather than shrivel up on the vine, we needed to be on the same page. The same thing goes with all kinds of people who make things and have an internet presence. If you want them to keep making the stuff and improving, you’ve got to learn how to tell them that so they’ll actually hear you and not just run off into a corner crying after reading your first sentence.

It Starts With the First Sentence

The first sentence is always, always crucial. You can win or lose someone with just a handful of words so, choose carefully! When offering criticism that you want them to hear and heed it’s important to start from a positive place.

Remember the Positive

If you’re going to take the time to offer a helping hand towards improvement, you must have seen something in the work that you enjoyed. Start there. Know what you like and don’t be afraid to gush about it! Knowing what really struck a cord with you, might help them to understand that they’ve hit the right point somewhere, so they’re less likely to throw out all the things you loved as they improve their craft. There’s nothing worse than not really liking everything about someone’s work but really enjoying a few elements only to find that the next work doesn’t have any of those elements left in it.

Enhance That Image

Now that they know what you enjoyed, tell them ways to enhance that image. Talk about additional steps they could take to improve on what’s already a good thing.

Don’t Overemphasis the Bad

Eventually you’ll run out of the good bits to talk about and you’re going to want to talk about the bad things you want them to lance out like a infected boil. Hold up there buttercup. How much good stuff did you mention? A nice rule of thumb is to aim for no more than an equal number of bad things so they don’t get overwhelmed. Make sure you know what really bothered you so you don’t get bogged down with smaller pet peeves, prioritize.

Be Polite

Should go without saying but this is the internet (stupid) so it’s worth pointing out specifically: be polite, especially when you’re talking about someone’s faults. Remember that even though you’re talking about someone’s work, most creatives view their work as externalized parts of themselves, so everything negative you say about their work can feel like a personal attack.

You Want to Help

This is the most important part, even when you’re talking about the stuff you absolutely hated – you want to help. Don’t forget to offer possible solutions as you’re pointing out the bad bits, without this no amount of careful wording will make your criticism constructive. You need to not only know what you hated but why, how to improve it and most importantly how to tell them how they can do better.

That’s just about everything. As you can see it’s not an easy task but if you care enough about the thing the thing to try I promise you they’ll appreciate the effort. Don’t forget that while being helpful takes some actual work on your part, you can always just drop a positive word or two in the review section to brighten any creative’s day, seriously we live for that stuff. Now go forth and help improve the quotient of awesome in the world!

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