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Apr 8, 2019

First-Time Critique Partner? Here Are 8 Critique Dos and Don’ts

By Rene Penn.

Is this your first time critiquing someone's work? No worries. You got this.

People with little or no critiquing experience may doubt they're up for the task. The truth is, you don't have to be an expert to critique someone's work.

Think about the last time you were blown away by the first few pages of a book. Or when you noticed that a movie dragged in spots. Or how you were disappointed by a book's ending. All of those times, you were critiquing, even if you didn't realize it.

As a critique partner, you'll learn to recognize moments that give you pause—like dialogue that needs to be trimmed or a character that falls flat.

You'll revel in great bits of prose—where a description heightens your senses, or a plot twist leaves you breathless. 

And you'll give feedback with the same confidence you have as a reader in a bookstore or a movie-goer at a theater.

If you consider these eight tips as you critique, you’ll be on your way to critiquing like a pro.

1. Do acknowledge an unfamiliar genre

Some of us gravitate toward reading and writing in a certain genre. If you’re like me and read and write a lot of romance, you may not feel as comfortable critiquing a thriller or sci-fi piece, for example. 

When I receive critique partner invitations related to unfamiliar genres, I may not accept them. But if I do accept, I also send a message disclosing that their chosen genre is out of my wheelhouse. It's good to be up-front, then the writer can decide how he or she wants to move forward.

2. Do read the whole piece first

When you receive a piece to critique, resist the urge to add comments on it right away. Your thought or question may be addressed as you read further. 

Make mental notes along the way. Then once you're done, go back to the top—maybe even let your thoughts brew for an hour or more—then enter your comments and feedback.

3. Do cater comments to the kind of feedback requested

Is the writer asking for high-level feedback, plot feedback, or line-by-line comments?

As you go through your critique, keep those specifics in mind. If you're not sure what the writer is requesting, you can send them a message. They'll appreciate that you're asking for clarification.

4. Don't be rude or sarcastic

I know you won't, but I have to include this "Don't" anyway. When it comes to written critique feedback, it's good to have a sensitive approach. Tone can be hard to decipher without a voice or body language attached to it.

Re-read a comment before sending it off. Put yourself in the recipient's shoes. If the tone can be misconstrued as negative, rewrite it in a way that's constructive—and with less, uh, unintended bite.

5. Do point out hiccups

There are times when I read a line or paragraph in a story that trips me up. I may not be able to articulate why, let alone how it should be fixed. In those moments, I try to identify how that part made me feel, and I communicate that to my critique partner.

Example: "I felt a hiccup here. I'm not sure if it's the pacing or not. I wanted to point it out, because it seemed to interrupt the flow of the story, especially compared to the previous sections."

6. Don't forget the positive feedback

You can't go wrong with a critique sandwich.

If you picture a regular sandwich as bread-meat-bread, a critique sandwich is positive feedback-constructive comments-positive feedback. Follow this format to ensure that you’re delivering good stuff along with your critique. And by the way, words of encouragement make a great condiment.

7. Don't wait too long to respond

Partners on CritiqueMatch do a great job of critiquing quickly. Since it's something I've appreciated when I want to hear feedback on my piece, I work hard to follow the same turn-around.

If it takes longer to critique a piece than you anticipate—that is, longer than the date the partner requested—it’s good to send a message to help manage their expectations. 

8. Do glean gems from your critique

I may write a constructive comment for someone and realize that I need to take a dose of my own medicine. I've even noted that revelation so my critique partner knows they're not alone.

Critiquing is a two-way street. Not only will you refine your editorial eye as you critique, but you'll also sharpen your skills as a writer.

It's like exercising a muscle. The more you hit the gym, the better results you get. So lace up your sneakers, grab the foam roller that looks like a giant noodle, and let's get to it.


About the Author: Rene Penn
Rene writes fun, fast-paced, rom-com-inspired romance and women’s fiction. She also blogs about her writing journey and latest cooking attempts at When she isn't writing, she likes to go on walks with her husband, scours the internet for delicious recipes, and despite her allergies, dreams of owning a cute dog someday.