The Art of Reviewing – How to Give Effective Feedback

Reviewing other writing can be a tricky task. Some people dislike being negative while others think that giving only negative comments are the most useful way to review. To give others feedback you need to consider several issues:

1. The feelings of the writer

You may disagree with me on this but many writers are insecure about their writing. When they put their work up for review they are asking for help to improve their writing and for useful feedback. They are not, however asking to made to feel as if everything they write is terrible. While you need to be honest in giving feedback, there are ways to do this without being hurtful. Use tact and remember to point out positive points as well as negative points. If it’s fiction or poetry remember that they are interested on hearing about the content of their writing, not necessarily every spelling and punctuation error that you spot.

2. Considering Your Own Prejudices

When reading or reviewing any work you, inevitably have your own feelings and opinions but the writer is not necessarily going to benefit from feedback that doesn’t consider the overall work in a neutral light. When doing any form of analysis you need to consider both your own starting position, that is where you are biased and consider each work from as neutral a point as possible so as to give a clear but honest analysis. Think about this example:

Reviewer A is a big fan of non-fiction books and is given a sci-fi novel to review. They immediately need to recognize that they are reviewing outside of their genre and therefore may be biased against many elements of the sci-fi. There is no need to mention in the review that this is not their genre. They can still review the item by focussing on elements such as character, structure, story and writing style. It would be pointless however to give a review saying that they do not like sci-fi and negatively pointing out all of the sci-fi elements as bad.

3. How to Balance Your Review with Good and Bad Points

I don’t believe that any writing has no good points. Some may have more to praise than others but try to find something positive. Some people seem to believe that negative reviews are the only valid form of reviewing and that purely positive reviews are somehow dishonest. I disagree with this totally. I approach all analysis from a middle ground, looking at what I thought worked and what could be improved. I am always honest but I generally look at fiction in this manner when reviewing:

Did I like it?

How well is it written? E.g how are the scenes formed.

What were the characters like?

Where there any points I felt could be improved or needed changes.

What advice can I give to strengthen the work.

Using this sort of process I am considering my own stance on the item, the story, the structure and how I think it can become even better. This helps me to distance myself from what I am reading a therefore give a more useful review. Having been on the end of many reviews I know that all information is useful if you choose to have that mindset as a writer and that everyone is allowed their opinion but reviews with more specific advice are extremely valuable. My earlier post on this site covers the usefulness of receiving feedback. Click here for the link: How to Deal With Criticism

The main point to remember in giving feedback is that the author is sharing something very special to them and asking you for advice about it. Be tactful, be honest and be encouraging. All of this can be achieved without negativity and promotes a supportive atmosphere between writers rather than a competitive one


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