When you provide your college peers with constructive criticism, consider following these 7 useful ideas for making that criticism more effective and helpful, and less demoralizing and confusing.
- Write in present tense. You are describing the current state of the document you are criticizing.Incorrect – past tense: “The SEO assessment was missing the list of competitors.”Correct – present tense: “The SEO assessment is missing the list of competitors.”
- Keep you and them out of the critique.Do not include “I”, “me” or “you” statements in your critique. Instead, go with third person and/or passive sentences. If you have to identify someone or something, use the title of the document or website you are reviewing, not the person’s name.Incorrect – first and second person: “I think you can add a more specific example of a threat regarding competitors. This can improve your SWOT analysis.”Correct – third person/passive: “Adding a more specific example of a threat regarding competitors will improve the fullbrainfilms.com SWOT analysis.”
- Passive is better than active.Normally, you should write in an active voice and not bury the subject, however, since it’s clear who (or what) the subject of the criticism is, then passive makes sense. Also, a passive voice will cause a less defensive response from the person you critique.Incorrect – active: “Your assessment could be improved by including more keyword phrases to your list.”Correct – passive: “Including more keyword phrases to the list will improve the assessment.”
- Make sentences short. Passive sentences tend to be more difficult to read because the subject is removed or dislocated. Be sure to keep your sentences short. Better yet, go with lists — numbered or bulleted — to make quick, clear points with your critique.Incorrect – long sentence: “The assessment could be strengthened by including a list of competitors, increasing the number of keyword phrases from 20 to 40 or more, and ensuring that external factors are the only ones present in the threat section of the SWOT analysis.”Correct – list:
“Areas for Improvement
– include the list of competitors
– increase the keyword phrases from 20 to 40 or more
– only include external factors in threat section of SWOT analysis”
- Reference outside sources when possible.In your criticisms, you should reference outside sources, such as a textbook, the instructor, or an external link. You’re probably not an expert on the topic — you may be a student doing a peer critique — and you may feel awkward about giving criticism because you feel that the person receiving it will not accept your personal opinion. Giving them an external, second opinion is a way to remove responsibility from you, and give them another source to consider.Incorrect – lacking sources: “Include the list of competitors.”Correct – using sources: “Include the list of competitors as described in the assignment instructions, Step 3.”
- Be specific.Give details wherever possible. Always provide examples when giving feedback if relevant.Incorrect – missing details: “Provide title text on the home page.”Correct – details and examples: “Provide title text on the home page, like ‘Full Brain Films | An independent film production company in Portland’.”
- Be honest instead of flattering.You may feel obligated to “give the good with the bad”, in other words, provide some positive statement along with criticism so you avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Avoid this impulse. If you’ve done everything listed above, you are already minimizing the potential for hurt feelings as best you can. Being flattering at this point is likely to undermine your criticism, or worse, be seen as insincere by the reader.