General Guidelines: Critique Versus Criticism
|… comes from a position of expertise.||… comes from a position of ignorance.|
|… is constructive (offers improvements, what TO do).||… is destructive (what NOT to do).|
|… is selfless (respects the author’s goals, not what the critic wants).||… is selfish (advances critic’s goals).|
|… is specific (e.g., your writing would be improved if you limited use of adverbs).||… is vague (e.g., I didn’t really like your writing).|
|… focuses on the creation.||… focuses on the creator.|
Peer review in engineering depends upon an understanding of critique. As differentiated from criticism, critique is motivated by the intention to serve the author’s or designer’s goals (rather than the critic’s).
Criticism (bad) is personal, destructive, vague, inexpert, ignorant, selfish and individual.
Example: “Your presentation sucks because you don’t even do the math right, and I wanted to know the best option for the truck because I’m thinking about buying one. You also mumble too much and speak too quiet so I can’t hear what you said so I just skipped ahead in the video to the conclusion.”
Critique (good) is impersonal, constructive, specific, expert, informed and selfless.
Example: “The presentation could be improved by including a comparison of net present values calculated for the truck’s lease and finance options with multiple discount rates to allow the audience to identify more closely with the analysis. There is an audio problem with the recording that made it difficult to hear, so I recommend re-recording the audio using an external microphone to ensure high sound quality.”
In general, criticism is judgmental and focused on finding fault, while critique is descriptive and balanced.
Both criticism and critique are forms of feedback, but it should be obvious that critique provides a better learning environment. Still, students who lack expertise may consider themselves underqualified to provide critique.
General Guidelines for Providing and Accepting Critique
|Providing Critique||Accepting Critique|
|Assess your own positionality within the community||Have an open mind|
|Make it all about the reader/user||Avoid being defensive|
|Understand context (timing)||Don’t play the blame game|
|Understand that improvement is a process (which is why you want to be specific with your critique)||Ask clarifying questions|
One way to provide constructive feedback to an author is to chronicle your experience of being a reader in the non-judgmental way. You can do this by sharing with the author your reactions in all three aspects of the mind.
- What did you think while you were reading?
- What did you feel?
- What did you do?
Simply by describing your reactions, you can provide the author a better sense of their audience — i.e., the “experience of the reader” — in a way that allows them to improve their writing.
Just as there is an art to giving criticism, there is an art to receiving it. In his blog, Dan Rockwell gives tips on how to receive feedback like a leader
Receive feedback with openness, not defensiveness.
To benefit from feedback, he suggests asking:
- Tell me more.
- Help me understand what you’re saying.
- What makes you say that?
One way to benefit from both criticism and critique is to keep a mindset of personal growth. Rather than becoming defensive or confuse the feedback for something that defines who you are, accept the feedback as an opportunity for you to grow.