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Equal Parts Criticism and Praise?

In the comments section of my post on How to Critique Other Writers’ Work, a debate ensues. When using the sandwich approach (two slices of positive feedback with a glob of criticism in the middle), do the positive and critical parts of your sandwich need to be equal? If a manuscript needs a lot of work, is it still important to give it as much praise as criticism? If a piece is ready to publish, should you still give it as much criticism as praise? If you answer “No,” please explain in comments. Thanks for participating!

11 comments to Equal Parts Criticism and Praise?

  • I wouldn't necessarily say equal praise and criticism. I'd say each according to the individual weighed merited. But I would make sure both are there.

  • Ditto what Stina said. The point of the criticism is always always always to HELP the writer. Making them think they have equal good to bad (when they really don't) does NOT help. But giving feedback in such a way that will make them receptive to your suggestions or observations, does.

  • I would say no praise only if the book is such an unredeemable piece of crap that you are doing your friend a favor by completing deflating them. And even the most perfect of books will have something wrong with it.

    P.S. How is it some people get their photos to come up on their comments and some of us don't?

  • Since I have trouble with absolutes, I had to pause a moment over the "yes, absolutely!" button. What I feel is that everybody who's trying to learn to write is going to produce a few good bits. If you praise those bits lavishly, the beginner has someplace to start when they're building themselves back up after hearing the other 99% of their work sucks. It's better to give a beginner the message "You're a really, really great speller!" than "You're worthless; go die."

    Nobody learns anything all at once. Learning is a continuum. Criticizing a beginner by the same standards as a professional does nobody any good (except maybe an intermediate with a sadistic streak.)

    I criticize advanced writers more harshly, because I know they'll be able to use the criticism and learn from it, instead of giving up in despair.

  • Thank you everyone for the comments! And Travener, I think it's a problem with my blog that you all are monsters instead of real people, but Kristan somehow circumvented it. Kristan, why aren't you a monster? I also notice on other people's blogs that when I log in under Google my picture comes up, but when I log in under my URL, it doesn't. Help!

  • I made this comment on the original post, but I'll repeat. There is a huge difference between positive/praise critiques, and negative/criticism critiques.

    It is unrealistic for there to be all equal parts in the sandwich technique. But what should not happen is to say "Oh I liked this part" and then dive headfirst right into trashing everything else.

  • I don't think that the criticism and the praise have to balance. They can tilt drastically if you know the author well enough and know how he or she will respond. Praise first is the general rule, or the writer won't listen to you at all. But once you've had the good sense to acknowledge their strengths, writers may listen when you point out what you consider to be flaws.

    I edit a small magazine, and we offer line edits after acceptance, but we leave it to the author to accept or reject the edits, because we've already decided we like them enough to publish. We also suggest edits before accepting, and those are more like, "We'd really like to publish this story if you strengthened this and this. We suggest…" That generally works out also.

    In a writing group, it's much more about weighing the personality of the writer and their level of writing. What will produce the best response from the writer is always my motivation, because until they've reached a certain level of competence many writers don't respond well to criticism, so it's best to reign in the minor details and point out only the biggest stuff that will definitely improve the work.

  • Good point, Sierra! I agree!

    Rob – Great point that it's important to take into consideration the personality of the writer (if you know the writer) and how they will respond to criticism. Thanks for visiting!

  • Blunt critiques only prepare you for the "real world" of agent rejections and editor suggestions. If you can't handle critiques, agents and editors will crush your world.

    That being said, I also believe in pointing out what someone is doing right too.


  • i would say more or less – may be not 50-50 – but perhaps by thirds is just as fine – it shd overall, be constructive and leave the "critiqued" with usefel tools instead of completely demoralized and deflated!

  • PLEASE add the Mount Desert Island Marathon to your list of want tos. OK? Its beautiful and we could use some of you up here in Maine.