What to Ask For in Critique

Feedback is most helpful when it’s specific.

Both giving and receiving feedback are learned skills. It’s not something everyone is born with. Some people go out of their way not to hurt anyone’s feelings. Some get off on being brutal. Most people want to be honest, but might just not know how to go about it.

One of the most powerful tools in getting the feedback we want is to learn to be specific about what we are looking for. It allows the person offering critique to narrow in on the parts you feel you want help with. It also helps avoid, to some extent, broad critique on things you feel are solid and do not want changed (although openness to those things may bring insight as well.)

If we are seeking critique from others, here are some things to consider asking:

  • What’s working well in the poem and why?*
  • Does the poem leave the reader with any unanswered questions? If so, what are your questions that would help clarify your understanding of the poem?
  • Does the reader understand the meaning of the poem and can identify a central idea or theme?
  • Are the references in the poem too vague or contrived?
  • Are images or references clear, or too abstract to identify the meaning?
  • Does the writer use specific, concrete details and imagery to “show” rather than simply “tell” ?
  • Is the language vivid rather than flowery, archaic, or cliché?
  • Does the poem sound original, use colorful images, and elicit an emotional response?
  • What is the poet’s point of view? Do they have one? If so, is it consistent and appropriate? If not, what helpful suggestions can you make?
  • What sort of tone do they use in the poem? Is the tone appropriate for the subject matter? If not, would a different tone work? What sort of tone would you suggest? What could the poet do to
  • Does the rhyme or rhythm (if used) enhance the poem, or does it seem forced? If so, what lines need work and why? What appropriate suggestions can you make?
  • Does the figurative language (if used), such as personification, simile, metaphor, or hyperbole, enhance the meaning of the poem or is it used inappropriately? What suggestions can you make regarding the use of figurative language?
  • Does the poem adhere to a specific structure? If so, do the stanzas and/or meter for each line create harmony and consistent beat/rhythm? Do they create smoother transitions and continuity between lines or does the structure create more confusion because the lines are too lengthy or wordy and maybe the line breaks make it difficult to understand?
  • Does the poem, regardless of structure, have a flow, or musicality? Are there any parts that seem awkward or too jarring? Which parts? What are some suggestions to help with flow?
  • Does the poem seem natural in the language in which it is written? Are there words or phrases that could be worded more smoothly or poetically and still retain the same feeling or meaning?

Asking questions like these show that you have looked at your own work with a critical eye, and seek to improve your work. Humility is an attractive quality in a writer, one which is necessary to master the craft.

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