How to Write a Critique Letter

Writing a critique letter in the office.
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Critique letters, most commonly written in creative writing and composition classes, are an opportunity to offer feedback to your classmates on what is and isn't working in an essay or story. Successful letters contain a balanced evaluation of how well the piece responds to the assignment; they define its strengths and weaknesses and offer suggestions on how to improve the next draft.

1 Evaluate the Purpose

Opening your letter with a description of the piece's main objective or story line can help the author see whether readers are correctly perceiving the message. If you're reading a short story, you might give a brief summary of the piece, then talk about what the intended emotional and thematic effects seem to be. A critique letter for a persuasive essay, by contrast, might restate the paper's thesis, then discuss the main points the author uses to argue his perspective. If you are unclear about what the piece is saying, craft a sentence that explains what you think the main point or theme might be.

2 Share the Strengths

Discussing specific things that are working in the story or essay can build goodwill with the author. Describe the piece's strengths using specific, objective language. If you're critiquing a short story, rather than saying you "liked" the main character, you might say, "The protagonist is a complicated, fascinating character." Giving examples from the writing itself shows the author you have given careful attention to the piece and have his best interests in mind. Reading the essay twice before you begin writing can give you a better understanding of what the piece is saying and what moments are most significant.

3 Discuss the Weak Points

Arrange your criticisms of the piece from most important to least important. If a short story is composed of a series of scenes and descriptions with no unifying plot structure, mention that first. If you're critiquing an essay that lacks a thesis statement, begin your letter by pointing this out. Use a thoughtful tone, but be honest about what isn't working. Placing the focus on what needs to be improved rather than discussing what's "bad" about the piece is most helpful to the writer as he revises the essay.

4 Make Suggestions

Offering specific ideas for improving the piece can give the author a possible direction for resolving the concerns you've brought to her attention. For each weakness you discuss, offer one suggestion for what the author can do to correct the problem. For the story without a plot structure, you might point out a section where a potential conflict between the characters seems to bubble under the surface and suggest the author develop it further. Likewise, the essay without a thesis might have a particular section with a strong argument that could be expanded into its own paper. Refer the author to applicable sections of the piece so she can review them in conjunction with your comments.

Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.