The first thing that you must remember is that the piece you’re critiquing was written by a human being with actual human emotions not some robot who churns out words. Telling them flat out that it sucks is not only rude, but dishonoring to your own abilities as a writer. If you truly feel that your writing is superior then it is your responsibility to offer insightful critique. You may be wondering, why this is the first thing that I mention. Tact is something that many people seem to lack when critiquing writing. Many people fail to see how very personal writing can be. It doesn’t matter if you write heartfelt poetry, works of nonfiction, or epic fantasy journeys, writing is emotional. Someone has put forth much effort and much time toward creating what they might consider a masterpiece and who are you to carelessly dash their dream? During my university studies I endured my fair share of writing workshops and there have been a few that involved rude peers telling me that my piece was no good without offering any sort of constructive criticism and it stung. I have never once told someone that their writing is flat out bad. I may have thought it and wished that I didn’t have to edit it, but I soldiered through and in the end felt good that I was able to help a fellow writer. Keep that in mind the next time you get the urge to scribble “this is terrible” or “this makes no sense” on someone’s piece.
If you truly love writing then you probably wouldn’t mind helping others hone their skills. You wouldn’t want them to fall flat on their faces (unless you have power issues, in which case, I don’t think this is the hub for you.) The best way to start a critique is to practice the art of the compliment. No matter how terrible the piece is, it is important to find something that you can give a bit of praise. Begin and end your advice with a compliment; I call this the sandwich method. By creating this sandwich and starting with a compliment you help set a positive tone for how the writer will receive your advice. Rather than being viewed as mean spirited, conceited jabs at their abilities, your criticisms and corrections will now be accepted as honest, thought provoking suggestions. Closing your critique with another compliment helps to soften any “blows” you may have dealt within the piece. Leaving them with a bit of praise, even if it is just a line that you found enjoyable, will do wonders for their self esteem and by pointing out what they are doing right, you are enhancing their abilities. You are encouraging good writing and with that knowledge they will be able to go back through the piece and edit with confidence.
And remember, always give examples with your critique. Merely telling someone to change a line for better comprehension doesn’t really do them much good.