Peer-Review: When are Comments “too much”?

Writer Workshop / Peer-Review

I love a good hangloose (a mental hangout for ideas). When writing, a workshop fits the needs better than just exchanging ideas. Critiquing comes into play, however, that may come with negatives. The following are a few tips I cling to when considering the work of others.

1.  Find errors and offer suggestions.

A writer writes often, which means much time is dealt with creation and personal editing. However, writers develop almost x-ray lenses as they’ve lived in their topic for sometime. While editing, the writer may cut information required for a reader to understand, but… since the writer wrote the material, they may not realize their stepping stones vanished. Reader’s can see the slip. I know this to be true as I just cut forty-three percent of my paper and lost much. It happens, and it is horrible. However, critiquing can fix misconnections. “Silly-slips” are found this way, little things like typing “in” instead of “it/is” or “there” instead of “their”…you know. When I suggest a different word or sentence structure adjustment, I end the comment with a question mark as this shows the author I am not certain only curious. This allows the author to make the ultimate decision without feeling forced. It’s a small thing – a “?” instead of a “.”

2.  Stick to your guns – grammar, structure, sense.

If there comes a moment when you’ve lost interest or cease to understand, leave a thoughtful comment noting your confusion and ask for explanation. Do not give up on the review. The author still needs your help – possibly now more than ever. However, as an editor/reviewer, one cannot demand the piece change, or reach for something that is not there. What one is left with is grammar, structure, and as much sense as one can see. Even if one does not “like” the piece, it is proper etiquette to complete the review. Failure to do so makes the editor/reviewer look bad, not the author. Keep that pen poised and assist with fundamentals if theory has escaped.

3.  Balance negatives with positives.

Authors are looking for correction assistance, but they also appreciate praise. Remember, the words one reads are the sentiments of the author – their views, feelings, perspective on the situation. Authors bear their soul, if their work is passionately written. Critiquing can be an act of bravery, with the author’s courageous effort laid naked at the reviewer’s fingertips. Show decency and appreciation for the effort the author put forth. There are many pieces I have not “personally liked” but find numerous ways to offer appreciation for the author’s work. One thing to keep in mind:  the author did not write the text for you – it was written for an audience. The reviewer’s voice is one among many. Surely there is something good one can say about any given text. ie:  “Crime and Punishment details elements of human nature, expounding on guilt and anguish” – sounds rather interesting, right? The secret is that I hate that text in an absurd way {I literally threw it into the fire}.

4.  Read as if there were two papers – the first as information, the second as confessional.

As mentioned in point two, the author {if the text is good} has exposed their inner soul. When critiquing, imagine one is two editors:  the first reads for fact and information while the second reads for artistic expression. Topic or genre is irrelevant. If fiction, the “fact and information” would mean the fictional rules and order. Are the character described? Can one visualize certain images by reading? If essay or non-fiction, is the information true or accurate? If literature, was the lesson learned and the protagonist changed – can you see more than one story within the story? Editors and reviewers look for structure with one eye and creative flow with the other.

5.  Remember:  suggestions are just that, the author may not accept or agree.

The editor is not the final word on the document – the author is. If during the initial workshop the author ignores or rejects the editors suggestions, the editor should not take this personally. Sometimes it is hard to do, but one must drop the issue. Shake it out. The piece belongs to the author, and while they appreciate critiques they are the last gasp and will write how they choose.