Here are ten basic tips for critiquing a manuscript in random order:
1. Start with something positive. Point out your favorite sentence or mention what you liked about the article or chapter.
2. Ask the writer if they want a “big picture edit” or a “fine-line edit.” Big picture offers your perspective on the overall flow, points out any questions that arise or areas that need to be expanded or eliminated. Fine-line is more detailed and points out missing commas, misspellings, or problems with sentence structure.
3. Decide whether you will e-mail or meet in person. I recommend meeting face-to-face whenever possible because it’s more personal and it eliminates confusion that e-mailing can bring.
4. Pick a color system. Highlighting words, sentences, or paragraphs helps the writer easily identify her problem or strong areas. For example, my critique group uses green to indicate a great sentence. Grey means delete. Blue shows sentences that need to be reworked for a better flow. Purple shouts out repeated word.
5. Point out passive verbs. Offer your suggestions to make a sentence active.
6. Look for repeated words or concepts.
7. Avoid changing the writer’s voice. It’s common when critiquing line-by-line to want to rework sentences in the way you would say them. Avoid this temptation. Offer suggestions only when a sentence reads awkward.
8. Watch for point of view changes. Writers have a tendency to head hop. If it bugs you to read the constant change, it will bug another reader too. It’s better to stick to one or two POVs whenever possible.
9. Learn all you can about basic editing. The more you know about grammar the more help you will be to another writer. I recommend the book The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.
10. Flag long sentences. Sometimes they work, but often they can be tightened or split into two.
Above all, have fun! Remember critiquing strengthens your writing. I've noticed when I point out repeated words on a manuscript, the next time I write I'm more aware of my own repetition.
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