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The Art of Constructive Criticism

Updated on January 27, 2014

To critique or not to critique - that is the question

I've been an online writer for quite a few years now and have stumbled upon this question many times. While I acknowledge that nasty remarks are hurtful and often quite destructive, I am worried by the fact that the Internet starts to drown in sugar. A phrase "speak well or not at all" seems to apply to everyone these days, not to the dead only. Yet, how anyone is supposed to get better if compliments are all they get? Why would they need to? Let's practise the art of constructive criticism instead.

All photos come from this source

Wouldn't it be nice if everyone was nice?

NO!!!!!!!!!!!!

There is more than 6 billion people on our planet and every single one of us is different. It's called individuality and for me (and many others) it's one of the most beautiful traits of our species. So far so good.

Yet, all of us being different means also than we like and dislike different things. One person's love can be another's pain and the other way round.

Nobody likes hurtful, nasty comments. Being mean helps no one, maybe except the one particular person who's venting the poison off. But I fear that too often we reach the other extreme - being nice and oh so sugary to everyone and everything.

Poison looks good only on rattlesnakes

Poison looks good only on rattlesnakes
Poison looks good only on rattlesnakes

Internet trolls or Internet sugar fairies?

Personally I'm extremely tired by the overwhelming political correctness. I don't like nasty, mean remarks, I don't enjoy hearing that someone wishes I'd die etc., but I don't enjoy thoughtless, boring praise either. Sure, you don't have to agree with me. Guess what, you can even tell me about it - because this is the whole point of any discussion. It isn't forcing yourself to find something nice to say (funny how easy this is to spot). It is finding something YOURS to say, and saying it in the polite way. If this is what you think, tell me:

'I don't agree with you'

'I'm not persuaded'

'This is not my pair of shoes'

'I would argue with this and this and this point of your article'

and you won't hurt my feelings at all. I may think it through and change my mind, or decide to stick to my guns. I don't expect the whole world to agree with me - but sometimes (mind you, only sometimes, I'm not saying that everyone is thoughtless and spineless) I feel like I'm quite alone in this.

I write to express my point of view, not to show everyone how nice I am. Am I very wrong in assuming that most other writers (should?) do the same?

Your opinion?

Who's worse - the trolls or the sugar fairies?

See results

Is it better to turn the blind eye?

The common rule these days seems to go somewhere along the lines of 'if you don't like it, ignore it'. On the whole I agree with it (as in - I won't search for articles on Lady Gaga just to tell the author what a hopeless artist in my opinion she is). Weak articles are/should be treated with elegant silence, right? Of course there will always be people who simply hunt for traffic and praise anything, which leaves a bad article with lots of thoughtless and boring 'awesomes', 'amazings' and 'good jobs', which translates into bad work existing, circulating and IF the author works in the good faith, not improving, because why improve something that visitors declare good?

How about giving constructive critique instead?

It's all about balance :)

It's all about balance :)
It's all about balance :)

The Art of Constructive Criticism

Disclaimer

Please note that all the opinions expressed on this lens are my own and strongly subjective. You don't have to agree at all. You can use my tips as you see fit, or not use them at all. I don't consider myself the ultimate judge of the mankind, I speak only for myself and my likes/dislikes. Why?

Because I can.

I have a feeling I'm entering the slippery ground here :)

Ok, so the big question - what makes any criticism constructive?

1. I discovered that giving feedback in foul mood usually ends badly. Anger is the most dangerous state of mind here, but bitterness, irritability, sadness and disappointment are not friends of fair critique either. You can always wait. If you feel really strongly about something, it's not likely to change within an hour, is it?

2. Constructive criticism helps. If you see a way in which the article could be improved - go ahead and say it. For example - typos happen, to all of us. You can say - 'you idiot, you can't spell - hahaha' or 'I noticed a typo here and here, I thought you may want to change it'. Guess which is the constructive criticism? The same goes for obvious graphic mistakes or pointing out 'facts' that are not facts at all (and you can prove it).

3. Expressing your opinion is ok. I love the authors who encourage honest feedback (but I see totally no point in asking questions like 'Did you like this article?' and removing all the comments saying 'No, not really'). The important bit is to stress that THIS IS YOUR OWN OPINION. Everybody is entitled to one. It can be just as bland or extreme as the owner pleases. It's ok to disagree as long as you respect your opponent. I often leave comments like: 'I don't agree at all, but I appreciate you voicing your opinion' (ok, my comments are usually little more relevant and detailed, I promote discussion, not judgement) - see how it softens the barb? I love the fact that we are all different and I would like to see it expressed more often - but this is only my opinion :).

4. It's cool to find something that you like and mention it alongside your critique. As in - 'I believe you need to work on your grammar as it gets really untidy here and there, but I very much enjoyed your picture selection'. Or you can be really sneaky and disguise your critique as a compliment - 'Wow, great pics, your lens would be so much better if you added more'. One suggestion: don't force it. ('I think pictures of dead bunnies are not appealing at all, and both your grammar and spelling need working on, but eeee... Times New Roman is a really great font to use!')

This rabbit is perfectly ok!

This rabbit is perfectly ok!
This rabbit is perfectly ok!

My experiment

When I started work on this lens, I had an idea that I'll pick an unfortunate victim and critique his or her lens here as an example. I've posted a request for volunteers in SquidU forum and even got a few replies :). I was also made aware of the weak points of the idea - i.e. the lensmasters actually listening to my critique and fixing their lenses accordingly. Thank you all, I find your feedback very helpful.

Your observations actually proved to be so convincing, that I ditched the project (another reason being the fact that I actually liked the lenses I was to critique).

I still feel that courage of the volunteers should be rewarded, so here's a handful of links pointing you to work of the Brave Almost Victims :)

Nightmares of political correctness

If I was to honestly express what I think of political correctness, I would get kicked off the platform in no time at all. I don't want that, so let me allow George Carlin to speak for me here (I bet he wrote this bit when he was really angry, crossed out all the swear words and ended up with half of what he wanted to say).

George Carlin on political correctness

But only if you really did. Please?

Critique this lens. Constructively! - Or tell me how much you liked it

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    • Country-Sunshine profile image

      Country Sunshine 5 years ago from Texas

      Political correctness makes me tired. As do sugar fairies and trolls. The world has become a place where everyone wins and we have to play nice. I agree with your article wholeheartedly. However, I have found that I instead of giving constructive criticism on pages, I normally say nothing at all. No comments. No likes. I just move on. I think I shall follow your advice, and start making a few comments here and there.. but nicely!

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 5 years ago

      Ouch?? ... it is the end of my day, I'm tired, and I happened upon your page. You seem edgy or testy about something? Oh, I personally am not enthused by sugar fairies nor trolls. I want people to be just who they are ... be the best. Don't fool around. But, don't be ugly either. You know? That's a lot to take in. And, tell me more than "great lens; beautiful; etc. and so on." Right now, that's about it. Good evening.

    • profile image

      dannystaple 5 years ago

      Hmm - I go to my point of how useless it can be to tell someone only what they want to hear. Now I need to find some criticism- well that sounds half hearted - but I'll find something if I look for it.. Now I feel mean - looking for something to moan about... Meh - I'll just write whatever!

    • nuestraherencia profile image

      nuestraherencia 6 years ago

      Wow! I have to say that you are one of the few on the internet that I have actually agreed with. On facebook I have managed to make many angry not because I called anyone a bad name, but because I wrote something about an article and they didn't agree with me. On the other hand, if I don't agree with something someone says, I will say what I feel...nicely...no name calling...yet I have been told, "if you don't agree with what I say, just don't post anything or reply"...so THANK YOU for writing this! - I'm definitely not a fairy

    • Tiggered profile image
      Author

      Tiggered 6 years ago

      @MaxL: Here it is :) Thanks for your feedback and all the help

    • profile image

      MaxL 6 years ago

      Interesting lens. And now I can finally stop being scared of reading something nasty about my lenses :D

      Anyway, as we're on the topic of contructive criticism, I found a typo in your lens! :P

      You wrote "bilion", One "L" is missing! ;)

      Kepp up the good work!