We encourage feedback on this forum. That is more or less the raison d’etre for this place. However, we don’t tell you what kind of feedback you should leave. For some people, feedback is nothing more than an expression of pure opinion, an “I like it, please continue.” I am not here to tell you that you can’t do that. Nor it is my intent to dictate preference. If you gauge your enjoyment of a story by how many times the word “diaper” is mentioned, that’s your business.
Instead, the purpose of this thread is to develop approaches to critiquing that will produce feedback that is useful to authors. There may not be a single ironclad, universal method, but there are things I’ve culled from undergraduate and graduate-level writing workshops that I think will be useful here. To some, these will seem like obvious no-brainers. I’m more concerned about reaching those who don’t know or think about these things already.
First and foremost, feedback should be specific. “I liked your story,” “I hated your story,” “this was good” and “this was bad” are all relatively meaningless. They don’t tell the author what was good so that s/he can know to do more of it or what was bad so that s/he can learn to avoid it.
In keeping with this specificity, it is helpful to provide examples. If I say that I don’t like a story because of the awkward syntax and sentence construction, I owe it to the author to illustrate what I mean by that. An example of awkward syntax would be something like, “Into the store the woman walked with her daughter age 11 and her daughter age 8.”
It doesn’t hurt – and often helps – if you provide suggestions. If, for instance, you notice that a character lacks depth, feel free to provide ways to give that character some depth (A hobby? A nickname? A phobia?). Be sure to take caution that your suggestions do not become commands (unless, of course, there really IS only one right way to do something), as the author is the one writing the story.
Tone is also important. You do an author no favors if you heap praise on or sugarcoat criticism of a piece that is really flawed. Likewise, to rip something to shreds over minor errors or because you simply do not like the style shows a complete lack of class. There should be a fundamental level of respect – and that goes for the authors too. If an author submits something which is extremely short, grammatically incoherent or otherwise indicates a lack of effort, s/he does not deserve the courtesy of a kind response. The same goes for authors who continue to get things wrong after ways of fixing things have been pointed out to them. We don’t run a praise factory here.
Finally, feedback should be accurate and relevant. If a point you’d like to make about a story is undermined by the one line you forgot to read, you won’t come off looking very good. Likewise, asking if an author will write more or what happens next after a story is completed is a good indicator that you haven’t been paying attention.
All that being said, I’d like to hear from some authors here. What do you look for in feedback? Are there types of comments left on your stories that you really appreciate and types of comments that really irk you? List 'em here.