Helpful criticism is one of the best ways of improving someone’s writing, but how to be critical without offending? The answer for some is not to give feedback at all, which is a lost opportunity for the writer.
We all tend to feel that our writing represents us and are easily wounded by someone taking issue with what we’ve written. We are likely to react defensively and then we don’t listen. However, there are ways of giving feedback that are not merely accepted but welcomed.
You can be critical of someone’s writing as long as you are seen to be on their side – wanting to help them get their point across, rather than simply finding fault. Any criticism should be balanced by an equal amount of support.
The key is to be factual, not judgmental. So if you say “I had to read that sentence three times before I knew what you meant” or “I found those long paragraphs a bit daunting”, you are stating facts. Instead of “That’s the wrong word”, you can say “I was confused by that word”. Again you’re stating a fact and you can go on to ask the writer how they might put it differently. They will often come up with something much better.
As writers, we should welcome criticism. Writing coach Daphne Gray-Grant has a useful article on how to handle it.