Helpful Criticism

First off, I love the theme and GIF that goes along with it. I know all the lyrics and corresponding dance moves to “I’ll Make A Man Out of You” from Mulan. If you ask me to perform, please understand that I give my best performances in the privacy of my own home.

Alright, back to reflections. I’m sitting here trying to think about what I learned throughout the gateway course. I believe my biggest takeaway will be the confidence in my writing that Shelley and my classmates helped to reinforce. As I’ve heard many times before, self-confidence needs to come from within–hence the self¬†in self-confidence. But I do think that the words of positive encouragement from Shelley and members of my blog group gave me the reassurance that what I was doing was right. Professors and GSIs have to critically analyze the papers and assignments submitted to them for a grade.

Photo credit: http://who-is-awesome.com/

One of my political science professors told the class today there exists a difference between offering negative criticism and thoughtfully¬†critiquing a piece. Too many times writers seem to happily to engage in harsh criticism rather than helpful critique. The professor went on to say that criticism that fails to prescribe solutions is rarely well-received. Instead, writers like to know what isn’t working, but also ways in which to improve the piece. I’m very glad my classmates understand this difference in criticism methods.

I didn’t think I would need those words of encouragement from my classmates and reviewers. But I have found that it really helps. When I get a paper back from Shelley that says “This is AWESOME!” I know that my work paid off and someone on the other side is listening. No pressure, though, to say anything nice back to me about this blog post.

3 thoughts to “Helpful Criticism”

  1. Balancing “harsh criticism” with “helpful critique” is a difficult job. I struggle with it whenever I review someone else’s writing. The thing is even if I like a piece, I usually have criticisms and things that I think could be changed for the better; I’m one of those types of people. That’s why I try to emphasize the positive. At the same time, some of the worst critiques I ever received told me I was great- the reason being that they gave me nothing to build off of or work with. That’s why the best critiques are leading questions- the kind you can’t ask in court but make the other person think. Still, enigmatic questions are just frustrating. So I think it’s all about balance. You don’t want to destroy someone’s confidence but you also don’t want to blow smoke.

    As for the nature of self-confidence, I think you’re right. Encouragement from people you respect goes a long way. I also think it’s a matter of trusting yourself and your choices. When you have confidence in yourself as writer, you are more likely to take risks and be creative, which can make you a better writer.

  2. Mark,

    I agree with you 100%. It’s hard to know what you’re missing/need with respect to grades and criticism when you’ve never experienced it – in this case, a professor as encouraging as Shelley and classmates as open and helpful as ours. Just as Julia said above, sometimes the worst criticism a writer can receive is that their writing is perfect. I think our classmates have been awesomely helpful and honest – during class-wide discussions and more personalized peer reviews – in terms of creating those leading questions and guiding ideas.

    It’s hard to be confident as a writer, but sometimes the only way to build it is to get constructive criticism as well as reassurance that you’re headed in the right direction.

    Love your gif, by the way.

    – Allie

  3. There certainly is a difference, as you noted, between negative criticism and thoughtful critique, which I think is east to detect. I look at it kind of like those class discussions on the more tense side, those dealing with polarized topics. The professor is sure to begin the class with some variation of the caveat “don’t criticize the person, criticize the idea.”

    We all know writing only gets better with more eyes glancing through it, so it would seem that this problem occurrs outside the discipline of writing. But I have had some reviewers with some ulterior motives behind their reviews of my work, which I think is a big disservice to the writer since the process is so important.

    As college students, I think we should all be able to look past the topic itself to offer valuable advice on diction, transitions, clarity, audience tactics, and tone. Reviewers provide a valuable test case at how the piece bodes with a sample audience member. I got my paper on the haves vs. the have-nots in litigation torn apart the other day by my GSI, but his comments were direct and helpful. And that’s all we can really hope for out of a peer editor.

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