A Guide To Critiquing In Public


Most of us have probably asked for feedback on our writing at some point, whether through sharing with beta readers, posting excerpts on our blogs, or putting our books up on Wattpad. And most of us have likely given feedback to our friends at some point too. There’s a real art to giving a critique of any sort. But there’s a special skill to giving good feedback in a public comment on a blog or Wattpad. The difficulty is that this is a public forum. People can see your scathing comment, and the knowledge of that makes receiving the feedback so much harder. It takes a lot of courage to put your work out for public critique where every can see people ripping your work apart, and the whole experience is made vastly better if people are nice in how they write their comments. So, I thought I’d put together a handy little list to help you write great public critique comments.

Is It Actually Wanted/Appropriate?

This is always the first thing to consider. Why is the writer sharing their work? Do they actually want feedback on it? Are they openly asking for people’s thoughts? Or are they just sharing because they’re proud of what they achieved and they want to show other people. No matter whether there are things that could be improved with the writing, it’s not always appropriate to point these things out, especially if the writer is sharing because they’re particularly proud of what they did.

This Is Not A Formal Critique

This is very important to remember. Giving criticism on a blog is very different to having a writer give personally ask you to critique their work. This is public. Everything you say will be weighed against the fact that other people can also see what you said, and if you’re particularly scathing then the writer is going to feel way worse than if you made the same points in a private message only they could see.

Start With A Genuine Compliment

Just like with a formal critique, you should always start by telling the writer something you liked about the piece. By this I mean, say something more than just ‘this is great’. Be sincere. Pick out something that you particularly liked about the piece and mention it specifically. There is nothing people like more than when people show they actually paid attention to what you wrote. It also makes the compliment mean more if you’ve taken the time to identify what exactly you liked about the piece. And, more than that, it also tell the writer what they’re doing well, which can sometimes be just as helpful as pointing out what they need to improve on.

Always Use Your Tact

Never say straight up anything like ‘next time, you should do this’. If you want to improve, fix this’. These are very confrontational ways of giving criticism, and are more likely to offend the writer than help them. Instead, try something more like ‘have you thought about trying X?’ Or ‘I’m not sure whether X is quite working for you. Have you considered doing X instead?’ Remember, this is their baby, and no matter well needed your insight might be, this writer is putting themselves out there in a big way and is very vulnerable. So be kind.

End On A Positive

The last taste of your comment should be a positive one. I’ve heard it described as a sandwich. Say something nice to begin with, then your constructive criticism, then end with something else positive. Again, be genuine. The more sincerely your compliments come across, the easier it is to take the criticism in the spirit it was meant in. There are few things harder to take than critiques that are pure negativity.

Don’t Point Out Everything

Nothing is ever perfect, and some things need more work than others. But it’s not always helpful to have it all pointed out at once. Instead of picking on every little thing, even when the writer has openly asked for feedback, mention the biggest, most pressing issues. The more problems you point out, the more overwhelmed the writer is going to be, especially since you’re not the only one giving feedback. It can actually be more helpful to nicely mention a few of the issues and make the writer feel that their work, if not perfect does have potential, than to point out all the problems. You should always aim to encourage as well as help.

Weigh Your Comment

This is especially important if the piece being critiqued needs a lot of work. Do you talk about a lot of negative things, overshadowing the positive comments? You might need to hone in more on the most pressing issues. Too many positives? That’s a lot less of a problem, but it is still more helpful to hear a mix of positives and negatives about the piece. If you have nothing to pick on, make sure you’re specific about what you think works, so the writer at least has an idea of what exactly they’re doing well.

Above All, Be Kind

I’m sure most of us have felt paralysing terror at showing other people our work at one point or another. Maybe we’ve been on the receiving end of a well-meaning, but misguided critique on our blogs or on Wattpad. No matter what you say in your comment, be kind to the poor writer. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself and your work out there, and being torn apart in public can be very humiliating. If in doubt, err on the side of caution. Because we’re all trying to help each other be better in this amazing community. A little kindness goes a long way.

Have you ever openly asked for criticism on your blog? What other points would you add to my list? Have you ever given constructive criticisms in a blog comment? What are some differences you’ve noticed between normal critiques and critiquing in a blog comment? 

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  1. Great post! I definately agree with everything you said. It's so important to sandwich your critiques. There's always /something/ nice you can say, even if the work has a lot of issues.

    1. Exactly! And I always feel that a writer gets a lot more out of a critique if they're not weeping over a totally negative one. Thanks for visiting!

  2. This is good advice. I've given a lot of critique whether it be privately, publicly on a forum, or in person with a bunch of other writers. Finding a balance can be tough especially if the work is really bad. The sandwich method definitely is my go to.


    1. I totally agree. With pieces like those, where it's so bad, I struggle to work out where to begin with the comments. It's always nice to receive a positive comment on your work though, isn't it? I'm terrified of receiving critiques myself, so the sandwich method is definitely my favourite. Thanks for stopping by Victoria!

  3. This is a really good post, Imogen. All the points you made are definitely good things to think about before critiquing :).

    1. Thank you Savannah! I hope you found something helpful in this post. Thank you for stopping by on my blog.

  4. I like these, especially your thoughts on staying positive, because I think that is especially important in a public place. I know that some people get their ideas about the story from comments sometimes, and so if they know that a lot of other people disapprove of a work, the group mentality can end up backfiring on the writer. :/

    I think if I were to add anything to this list, it would be that you should remember this is an online work and you haven't been solicited to edit their story with some kind of compensation—there's no promise that this author is going to trade manuscripts with you or return the favor in any way. That doesn't mean you shouldn't help them out, but it would be worthwhile to keep that fact in mind so you don't go too overboard in your feedback. It's probably okay to focus on one to five thoughts about the story, good or bad, or whatever you feel comfortable with, but don't try to do a line-by-line in the comments. It's okay to just give a little bit at a time in these situations.


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