How Can You Critique a Peer's Work While Remaining Constructive?


    How Can You Critique a Peer's Work While Remaining Constructive?

    Navigating the delicate art of literary critique requires a balance of honesty and encouragement, so we've gathered insights from six literature professionals, including content editors and CEOs. They share their strategies from debating ideas, not personalities, to offering specific, actionable feedback, ensuring critiques are both constructive and supportive.

    • Debate Ideas, Not Personalities
    • Feedback as a Constructive Gift
    • Apply the 'Sandwich' Feedback Method
    • Elevate Critique with Literary Finesse
    • Use the 'PACT' Method for Feedback
    • Offer Specific, Actionable Feedback

    Debate Ideas, Not Personalities

    Whether it's literature or any other writing, one thing I've learned is that there are two approaches. The first frames the critique as a debate whose aim is to deliberate on the ideas and the big picture behind the text. The other, much more particularistic, can often strike you as cherry-picking of things to criticize. The former is an invitation to build, contribute, grow together, and learn from each other; the latter, an ego-driven act of picking apart for its own sake. The recipe for doing the former and avoiding the latter is a bit difficult in our era of polarization. We need to (re)learn how to respect, acknowledge, and encourage different opinions rather than go ad hominem just because they pose a challenge.

    Jelena Ciric
    Jelena CiricContent Editor, BG Electrical & Air Con

    Feedback as a Constructive Gift

    Feedback is a gift and should be approached in that spirit—meaning that it is thoughtfully constructed and graciously received. When I seek feedback, I ask people whom I respect to provide their thoughts because I know it will improve my work. I bring that same perspective when I'm asked to critique the work of my peers: How do I make this better to help them and their ideas shine? Providing context to the critique can be essential as well, in establishing your tone and intent and ensuring clarity around the parameters of the feedback.

    Tiffany DiMatteo, Ed.D.
    Tiffany DiMatteo, Ed.D.Education Consultant

    Apply the 'Sandwich' Feedback Method

    My approach centers around the "sandwich" feedback method, which involves layering criticism between positive comments. This technique helps maintain a supportive tone while effectively conveying necessary improvements.

    For instance, I start by genuinely acknowledging what I appreciate about their work—be it the innovative approach, attention to detail, or the clarity in their presentation. This sets a positive tone and shows respect for their efforts. Then, I address areas where there is room for improvement, framing these as opportunities rather than shortcomings. For example, instead of saying, "This section is confusing," I might suggest, "Clarifying this section could enhance your overall argument and make your insights stand out even more." Finally, I conclude with encouragement, reinforcing my confidence in their abilities and expressing eagerness to see their revised work.

    This method was particularly effective during a project review where a peer had developed a marketing strategy that was creative but somewhat misaligned with our target audience’s preferences. By first applauding the innovative elements of their strategy and then gently suggesting an adjustment to better align with audience research, I was able to ensure the feedback was received positively. The peer was motivated rather than discouraged, leading to a refined strategy that significantly improved our campaign's success. This experience underscored the power of delivering constructive criticism in a manner that is encouraging and empowering.

    Bruno Gavino
    Bruno GavinoFounder, CEO, CodeDesign

    Elevate Critique with Literary Finesse

    My esteemed colleague's writing is akin to a tapestry woven with threads of ambition and diligence. It unfurls before the reader like a Renaissance masterpiece, promising both enlightenment and intrigue. Yet, as one delves deeper into the labyrinthine passages of their discourse, there emerges a faint whisper of critique, like the gentle rustle of leaves in an ancient forest. There are moments where clarity wanes, leaving the reader momentarily adrift amidst the tangled thickets of thought.

    Just as Jane Austen skillfully guides her readers through the social intricacies of Regency England with a keen eye for detail, so too must my colleague navigate the tempestuous seas of complexity with a steadier hand, illuminating the path for their audience with clarity and finesse. Moreover, in their quest for intellectual richness, my colleague may find inspiration in the works of William Wordsworth, who celebrated the beauty of nature and the diversity of human experience in his poetry.

    In the gentle embrace of constructive criticism lies the promise of growth and refinement, much like the nurturing hand of a wise mentor guiding a protégé towards enlightenment. Let us, therefore, extend a hand of camaraderie to our esteemed colleague, offering not merely critique, but also support and encouragement in their noble pursuit of intellectual inquiry.

    Neelam SinghEditor, The Healthy Indian Project (THIP Media)

    Use the 'PACT' Method for Feedback

    As a CEO, I handle peer critiques using the 'PACT' method: Praise, Acknowledge, Correct, and Trust. I start with Praise—I commend the aspects that are well-executed, showing I recognize their successful efforts. Acknowledge is my next step, where I empathetically express understanding of their work process. Then, I move to Correct by pointing out areas that require refinement, offering realistic solutions, not just criticism. Lastly, I reinforce Trust in their capability to improve and excel, emphasizing their potential. It's about balancing truthfulness with sensitivity to foster improvement and maintain strong ties.

    Abid Salahi
    Abid SalahiCo-founder & CEO, FinlyWealth

    Offer Specific, Actionable Feedback

    When critiquing a peer's work, I start by acknowledging their efforts and strengths, highlighting what they did well. Then, I offer specific, actionable feedback focused on areas for improvement, framing it as suggestions for enhancement rather than criticism. Finally, I ensure my tone remains supportive and encouraging, emphasizing our shared goal of growth and improvement.

    Madison T
    Madison TEcommerce Manager, My Supplement Store