When you write a critique, your goals are to be both supportive and rigorous. As easy as it is for readers to announce a thumbs-up (it’s good!) or thumbs-down (it needs work) verdict on a piece of writing, this kind of critique offers little back to write

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When you write a critique, your goals are to be both supportive and rigorous. As easy as it is for readers to announce a thumbs-up (it’s good!) or thumbs-down (it needs work) verdict on a piece of writing, this kind of critique offers little back to writers and does nothing to further anyone’s critical reading skills. With a more sustained critique, you give the writer a chance to get to know their work much better and you get to practice for when you’re at home revising your own essay. Offer observation (what do you see?) and explanation (what is it in the writing that makes you think that?). Say what and then say why, whether you’re offering compliment or critique. Be thoughtful, be specific, and be kind.

How to do it:

  • Read the writer’s essay all the way through once.
  • Then, choose two or three of the following questions to answer in your critique. Choose those which are relevant to the writer’s strengths and areas for improvement—after reading the essay through, you should know what those are.
  • When you answer your chosen questions, be sure to always explain the reason for your comment and give examples of what you mean. This explanation is what makes for helpful feedback, whether it’s complimentary or critical.
  • What is this writer doing well?
  • What do you think the writer’s main idea/thesis is? What’s your main takeaway from the paper? If this isn’t clear, why not? How could it be made clearer?
  • Does the opener grab your attention? If not, what might you suggest as an opener? Does an alternative already appear in the essay?
  • Is the paper well organized, with one main idea per paragraph?
  • Is there enough support (in the form of quotations from the pieces) for the argument?
  • Where might the writer expand? Where should the writer condense their ideas?
  • Was any portion of the essay unclear? If so, how might this be clarified?
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