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The Gentle Art of Criticism

 

 

I. Purpose

            Almost every manuscript, especially long, extended essays, have difficulties in organization.  The world is complicated and amorphous, but we want the essay to be neat and tidy.  The struggle between these two tendencies is the struggle to organize an essay.  The best time to catch problems of organization, the best time to find weaknesses in the argument is before you actually start writing the essay.  This is the purpose behind the critique of the outline.

            As a member of this class you have the responsibility of helping each member of the class to produce the best possible work.  In turn, their responsibility to you is to help you produce the best work you can.  Therefore, all criticism should be given and should be accepted with this mind: Criticism should be given with the sincere desire tp improve the work being discussed; criticism should be accepted as being given from such a desire.

II. Preparing the Critique

1. Look over the outline at least twice.

2. Is the thesis clearly stated?

3. Does the argument support the thesis?

4. Can you think of ways to improve the argument?

5. One of the most important ways in which a critique can be helpful at this point in the process is to help the author clarify his or her ideas.  What do you think the author could do to clarify the thesis and the argument?

III. Presenting a Critique

            1. Praise first.  Even with a problem-plagued argument there must be something good to comment on.

            2. Phrase your comments so that they are positive rather than negative.  For example:  "This could be better" rather than "This is bad."

            3. Offer comments delicately, prefacing a comment with "Perhaps this should be." or "Have you considered.?"  so that the author is not made to feel wrong from the beginning.

            4.  Be encouraging.  Remember what it's like when you are being critiqued.

            5. Remember: it's not your paper.  If you can think of a way to solve a problem in a manuscript offer the suggestion in a way that does not bully the author into doing it your way.

            6. Remember: it's not your paper.  The author is ultimately responsible for the finished product.  Do not be upset if the author chooses not to follow your suggestion, no matter how brilliant it might have been.

IV. Receiving a Critique

            1. The members of your group must have time to evaluate your work.  You must get it to them on time.

            2. Your responsibility as a writer is to communicate your ideas to an audience.  The class is a sampling of that audience.  Therefore, listen carefully to each member of the group.

            3. Your argument at this point will not be perfect.  It is after all, just an outline.  Therefore, do not be defensive.  You are not required to justify or explain why you did things in a particular way.  Just listen patiently.  The class is trying to help.

            4. Consider carefully all of the suggestions.

            5. Just because someone has made a suggestion does not necessarily make it a good suggestion.  You are ultimately responsible for the finished product.  So accept only those suggestions which you really believe will improve the paper. 

V. Finally

            The purpose of criticism is to learn and to improve.  You are there to help, encourage and support.  "Criticize" does not mean "tear down."

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