Some Thoughts on Personal Statement Critiques

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Joined: Tue Oct 18, 2011 10:13 am

Some Thoughts on Personal Statement Critiques

Post by jessie » Sun Oct 30, 2011 1:12 pm

I haven't been on this forum for very long, but I've done quite a bit of personal statement critiquing since I've been here and I have a strong background in critiquing fiction writing through peer-critiquing groups. I thought I'd just throw out some ways to improve the process, for anyone that's interested. Also, if anyone has anything they'd like to add to this post, feel free.

For the Reader:

- Know your audience: At what stage in the editing process is the author? If this is a first draft, nitpicky grammatical and spelling corrections won't be that useful, because the author is likely to make large changes that will make your corrections moot. If it is a final draft, it probably won't be very useful to tell them that you think their whole premise is poor, because the author has probably already decided to run with what they have.

- Explain general problems with specific examples: Not everyone on here has the same writing background. Saying that there is too much purple prose or telling the author to "show, don't tell" isn't going to help if the author doesn't already have a strong writing background. You don't need to tell the person how to fix every instance of the same problem, but showing them how to fix one line can lead them in the right direction.

- Don't be mean: I'm not saying not to be harsh. If someone has a really terrible personal statement, there is nothing wrong with telling them that. After all, that's why they posted it for review. However, making a one-line post with a sarcastic comment without explaining how to fix the problem will not help anything.

- Don't be too nice: Along the same lines, saying "This is awesome!" will not help anyone either. Even if you think their personal statement is perfect as it is, you should tell the author what about it worked so well. That way, if they decide to change it later on, they will know what parts they should keep.

- Differentiate corrections from suggestions: Is your comment a stylistic preference, something that might make the writing flow better but isn't really a necessary change? Is it a comment on poor wording that is, while technically correct, really awful to read? Or is it a correction on grammar or spelling that absolutely must be fixed? Sometimes it can be hard for the author to differentiate what your comments are. When I do a detailed critique, I sometimes find it's helpful to color-code these (green being preferences, blue being highly recommended changes, and red being corrections).

For the Author:

- Don't get defensive: Keep in mind that there is no obligation for anyone to critique your work. They are not reading it on this website in order to judge you, they are reading it in order to give a helpful critique (or they should be). They are not your intended final audience so arguing with them won't accomplish anything. You won't have a chance to defend your personal statement to an adcomm so why do it here? If you really think a reader is completely off base then don't use their suggestions.

Two exceptions to this would be if their post was really confusing and you need clarification or if someone makes a suggestion which you know to be absolutely false. For instance, if someone told you to put a bunch of commas in where you know they shouldn't be. In that case, you may want to politely correct the person in a PM.

- Let the reader know what you're looking for: Is this a first draft and you're mostly asking for opinions on the overall concept? Is this a final draft that you just need to polish? Do you have specific problem areas that you feel aren't working that you want people to focus on?

- Ask for "Critiques", not "Criticism": Okay, this is really more of a technicality and a pet peeve. I've seen a lot of posts asking for "Criticism" and I'm half tempted to make a post saying "you smell" just to give them exactly what they're asking for. A critique is a critical review. Criticism is just saying something bad, not necessarily with regard to improving a work.

- Share the love: If you want a lot of feedback, give feedback to others! Even if you don't feel as if you're a strong writer, everyone can give an opinion. Overall impressions are sometimes just as helpful as detailed critiques.

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