General Critique Guidelines
Whenever you read an essay, use the following questions to guide your response. First, keep in mind that, although you may not be a writing expert, you are THE reader of this essay and your response is a valid one. I have found that almost every reader, regardless of experience, can identify the primary strength and weakness in an essay, although their method of describing those issues may be different. The author will welcome your response and your ability to explain your reaction in a new way.
Although the author is not required to, and really shouldn’t, respond to everything you say, he or she will take your comments seriously and consider how the essay has enlightened or confused you. Therefore, comment freely, although respectfully. Keep in mind that it is better to begin by noting the strengths of the essay before pointing out the areas that need improvement. I would always include a personal response to questions like the following: What about the essay most connects with your experience? Moves you? Provokes you? Entertains you?
So that is how to respond. So how do you critique? For every essay, regardless of the mode, consider the broad categories of content, organization, style, and correctness.
- Content: Consider the topic (its appropriateness and interest for the assignment as well as a clear focus suitable to essay length) and the way the topic is developed (clarity sufficiency of its argument, its scope, subcategories, amount and type of examples, anecdotes, evidence, etc.).
a) Consider how the essay is introduced and concluded (especially looking for a “frame” to the essay, where the intro and conclusion refer to the same idea),
b) Whether the thesis is located in the most helpful place and suits the purpose of the essay (direct or implied, argumentative or informative),
c) How the essay is structured, whether the order or extent of development is successful, as well as
d) How individual paragraphs are organized (clear topic sentences, appropriate and concrete evidence, logical organization of evidence).
- Style: Style can refer to the overall style of an essay:
a) Whether the tone is appropriate (humorous, serious, reflective, satirical, etc.), w
b) Whether you use sufficient and appropriate variety (factual, analytical, evaluative, reflective)
c) Whether you use sufficient creativity.
d) Style can also refer to the style of individual sentences:
i. Whether you use a variety of sentences styles and lengths,
ii. Whether sentences are worded clearly, and
iii. Whether word choice is interesting and appropriate.
- Correctness: Correctness refers to grammar, punctuation, and form of the essay. You do not need to know the exact grammatical term or rule to know when a sentence is not correct. Even though you may not know the term dangling modifier, you could identify that the following sentence is not correct:
Rolling around in the bottom of the drawer, Tim found the missing earring. [certainly the earring was rolling, not Tim!]
You could also easily tell that the following sentence actually contains two sentences that need punctuation between them:
The new manager instituted several new procedures some were impractical. [You need to add punctuation (period) after “procedures” and capitalize “some.”]
Feel free to mark the essay at the point of the error with a specific recommendation (“run-on sentence”) or a general comment (“this sentence sounds wrong to me”). You can also simply put an “X” by any sentence that seems incorrect. See the back of your handbook for commonly used Correction Symbols.