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Reviewers' Handbook (1 Viewer)

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Reviewers' Handbook


We've all seen them: the one-line 'I loved it' replies, and the long, detailed critiques that tear the writing - and the writer's morale - to pieces. It's often said that criticism is far more useful than praise, but in some cases it's just not true. A writer without confidence will not write: in some ways strong praise is just as important as thorough criticism.

The goal of critique is to aid the author in improving their work through emphasizing their strongest and weakest elements. Therefore, constructive criticism should have a roughly equal balance of criticism and praise. It doesn't have to be long: you can fulfill these goals in a single short paragraph if you desire.

Writing a good review is not the same as writing a convincing argument. If you set out to convince the writer of his flaws with supporting evidence, you'll come across as rude and discouraging. However, it is imperative that both positive and negative commentary have a degree of justification.

A thorough critique will include some of the following elements:
  • Strengths
  • General Criticism
  • Specific Criticism
  • Summary

It's best to begin your review by pointing out strengths in the piece; there are positive elements to all works of writing. Take note of an especially strong image, or a sentence you particularly liked. Beginning this way will gain the author's trust right from the start and set a positive, helpful tone for the rest of your review.

General Criticism

This is your place to give an overview of the most important weaknesses in the piece.
  • Try to point out recurrent errors, or flaws that affect the whole piece. For example, if the author uses consistently poor spelling, mention it.
  • Keep in mind that your goal is not to point out every little error, but to focus on the two or three things that would most effectively improve the work as a whole.
  • Any faults you mention should be justified. Only mention the things that you feel would significantly improve the work if fixed.
  • For suggestions on the types of things to look for, visit the Writing 101 Forum, Writing Tips and Advice, Pawn's Critique Prompt or Ilya's Critique templates at the bottom of this page.
Specific Criticism

Here, you can become increasingly picky in pointing out weaknesses. Usually, you'll want to select certain points that demonstrate the faults you discussed earlier.
  • Use quotations to clearly show which sections bothered you.
  • Try to maintain a positive tone even when discussing shortcomings. Be aware of the tone you're using, and if you feel like your criticism is getting a little too heavy or sounding too pompous, throw in a compliment or a joke.
  • Most importantly, be sure not just to point to the problems, but to offer suggestions as to how they might be fixed.
For more on forum etiquette, take a look at the forum's Posting Guidelines.


Briefly summarize your points. At this point, it's best to lean more toward a positive outlook. Having already demonstrated what you feel are the piece's shortcomings, you want to leave the author feeling positive about the potential for improvement (A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!).


Writing constructive criticism is all about balance. Giving nothing but criticism will make authors feel overwhelmed and despairing. They may abandon their projects entirely, thinking there's nothing in them worth salvaging. Or, if reviews are too kind, they may think their writing is brilliant and doesn't need any work. In either case, no work is done on the piece. No progress is made. Balancing praise and criticism will inform the author of his faults while leaving him with enough hope and inspiration to fix them. When this happens, constructive criticism will be at its most powerful.
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Easy Critique Prompt

Easy Critique Prompt

  • What was your immediate personal reaction to the work? Loved it? Hated it? What struck you most upon your first reading?
  • How well did the work flow? If you didn't think about it at all, then it was probably very good. If not, were there lines which you stumbled over, or areas which stuck out? Does the punctuation work well? Did it read too fast? Too slow?
  • How effective did you find the author's choice of words? Did it suit the content? Could it have been better? Were there any particularly good phrases? What about bad ones?
  • Did the author's tone work well with the piece? Was the work consistent in style? Might it have been improved?
  • Were there recurring spelling or grammar mistakes? Was the piece technically sound? Alternatively, were there any particularly excellent uses of punctuation or unusual sentence composition?
  • Did the author make good use of imagery? If they did, how powerful was it? Were there any really great images? If they didn't, did the piece work regardless? Was it too abstract? Or too concrete?
  • Did you find the content of the piece stimulating? Did it bore you, or enthrall you? Did it challenge you? Did it move you? In general terms, did you feel the way it was written well fitted the content of the work?

If you have comments or suggestions regarding this guide, please don't hesitate to contact Dark Aevin or myself.
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[an]The following information was originally posted by Ilyak1986, and was taken from critiquecircle.com.[/an]

Hey guys, I just want to post some critique templates, so when people go to review somebody else's story, I suggest they follow one of these if they need some specifics as to what to critique. Hopefully these can be made into a feature, like to write a critique with an X template...

Detailed critique

This is a critique based on the Critique Circle's "Things to consider" list.

The start

A few words to the author before you start critting.


The first phrase in a story should be like a hook that grabs the reader's attention and interest. Is this the case here? Do you want to read more?


Can you see any conflict in the story? Conflict can be either inner-conflict or outer-conflict.

Inner-conflict: When different values, wishes and desires are at war within the character's own mind. These can be, for example: greed, duty, fear, lust, revenge and love.

Outer-conflict: When the longings/needs of different characters clash together.​


Is the plot clear and believable? Do you get answears to all the questions that arise in your mind as you read the story?


Can you pictures the settings in the story? Are there many vivid descriptions? Are all five senses, smell, sight, hearing and touch, used?

Character Development

Do you sympathize with the main-character? Do you care about what happens to her? Is she believable and seems "alive"? Does the author tell you what she does for a living, what her interests her, if she has family of friends and what she cares about? Does the character change during the course of the story or does he remain the same?


Are the conversation in the story believable? Can you "hear" them? Is there enough of them? Are they used to push the story along? Do they describe the characters' attitudes and abilities?


Is the author consistent in his verb use or does he roam between present tense and past tense? Could the author simplify his verb use? Are the verbs dynamic (powerful, descriptive) or are they neutral and don't really say much?


Are they neutral and descriptive (red) or valdue-laden and general (pretty)? Are there too many or too few adjectives? Generally, there aren't more than 1-2 adjectives to describe each subject.

Point of View

What is the POV in the story? Is the author consistent in its use? Is the POV working? Could another POV be better for the story? Should there be one or more?

Show, don't tell.

Does the author show you things, instead of telling you about them?

Moral Message

Is there a moral to the story? Do you feel that one character, or more, are in fact speaking for the author?


Is the layout of the text good enough? Does the author use paragraph breaks or is the text just a one big lump?


What do you think of the language? Is it good? Is there slang or any words you don't comprehend? Is it too formal, or maybe not formal enough? Do you see any cliches? Is his choise of words good or are the same terms and words used over and over again? Does the author repeat himself?


Is there a certain style of writing in the story? How do you like it? Is the style "broken" somewhere? When something is written in a totally different style than the rest of the text.

Overall impression

What impression, if any, did the story have on you?


Did the spelling distract you? Or was everything spelt all right?
A few words to the author.

Closing Summary.

A few words to the author..
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