Your team has provided you with some blog posts to get ready to publish. Some are pretty good. Some are decent. Some need to be beaten into submission (the blog posts, not the team).

Evaluating content is two-pronged:

  • How to determine if it’s good.
  • How to handle it when it isn’t.

That is certainly an oversimplification of a complicated process, but, in essence, those are the two judgements an editor or writing team leader has to make.

We’re going to talk about the second part, which involves that dreaded, horrible word: critique. What do you do when content needs work? How do you tell the writer without causing problems? And how should a writer react?

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The Editor’s Job

As the editor, you can approach critique differently.

1. Clean up the post.

Maybe the post isn’t too far off the mark, or you know that the writer isn’t interested in writing but is only doing it out of job compulsion. You might just choose to clean it up yourself.

Should you? That’s your call. You know your team. It isn’t wrong to do it, though do keep in mind that you shouldn’t over-edit.

2. Soften the blow.

Peer review of content (even if it’s just two people) helps to soften the blow and make critique less personal. It feels less like one person attacking the work of another, and more like a discussion.

3. Rethink being blunt.

Ripping a bandage off quickly seems to be kinder. It hurts, but the pain is gone quickly, we think. Behavioral scientist Dan Ariely says otherwise, his assertion being that a slower removal is perceived as less painful by the patient.

Quick ripping turned out to be more painful than slow ripping. In my experiments, I discovered a collection of tricks that could have been used to lessen the pain or manage it more effectively. – Dan ArielyClick To Tweet

As an editor, lessening the pain is a consideration. Apply that to how you speak when critiquing. You might save time and seem clearer by being blunt, but you might  also do some damage to the person. That damage can be cumulative over time, inspiring them to not write and to think they’re not capable.

4. Don’t use you.

Don’t use the word “you” or “your” or any form of a personal pronoun when critiquing a post. You aren’t critiquing a person, you’re critiquing what they made. An “it”, in other words. It’s a subtle thing, but it’s huge. Start using you, and your writers will hear it even if it doesn’t register right away what they’re hearing.

The Writer’s Job

Hey, writer, you have responsibilities, too.

1. Bring your best.

Write as best as you can. You might not be Hemingway, but Hemingway wasn’t always Hemingway, so do the best you can. Never bring in unfinished or half-hearted work for a pre-publish peer review. Even if it’s still a legitimate work in progress, half-finished work is hard for others to critique because you’re asking them to imagine a finished product.

Critique from unfinished work makes it easy to become negative on the idea and scrap it altogether. If your idea isn’t ready for the spotlight, don’t drag it out and let it get cooked.

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2. Compartmentalize if you have to.

People can tell you it isn’t personal as they critique your work, but that doesn’t mean you don’t feel bruised.

Writing is an act of creation, and creating something is actually very personal. The work of separating yourself from what you made is compartmentalization. That idea gets a bad rap, sometimes, but it is helpful. It keeps you from becoming apathetic as you numb yourself by telling yourself it doesn’t matter, instead, allowing you to care while providing a safe distance from your feelings.

3. Make necessary changes.

Swallow your pride and make the necessary changes. Think hard, and find a way to meet the suggestions. Make the changes.

4. Know when to stick to your guns.

But don’t make changes sometimes. Sometimes editors over-edit. If the changes are purely stylistic and you have good reasons to keep what you had, bring it up and be prepared to discuss.

Critique Is Art

Critique is an art form. If handled clumsily, it can upset people, both those giving it and those receiving it. We all take our work a bit personally, though some more than others. It is important to know how to both give a good and helpful critique, and how to receive one well.