Critiquing Guidelines
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Therapeutic, personal essay writing courses to examine and understand life's events

Coached by
Carol Celeste

2005-2012 Carol Celeste
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These guidelines used for critiquing personal essays:

  • let you know what I look for.
  • will be helpful when you critique your own and others' personal essays.

Critique means telling what you like, what you don't like and why. The why is the important part.

Note: I never critique the
content of a personal essay. The content is a segment of the student's life history, and it is not my place to judge it.

Critiquing can be as individual as writing. You develop your own style. Here you will learn how I critique student essays. As you read more personal essays, you will develop your own criteria and style.

I start with compliments--the things I like--and include specifics. Not a general "it was a moving story," but "I felt like crying at the part where you (fill it in)."

As I read, I ask myself:

  • What is this essay about? Can I sum it up in 25 words or less?
  • Am I able to follow the logic, or do transitions need to be added? In either case, I tell the author what works and what doesn't work and why.
  • Is the piece well organized? Does it logically make sense in the way it flows? If it doesn't, I tell the author where it breaks down.
  • Is the title appropriate for the story that follows?
  • Does the first paragraph lead into the story or does it promise one thing and the rest of the essay delivers something different?
  • Does the writer help me understand by giving examples?
  • Do I understand the message by the example(s) given?
  • Does the writer pay enough attention to a pivotal crisis or skim over it?
  • Which words flag my attention? Why?
  • What emotions do I sense while reading the piece? I share these with the author.
  • Does the essay make me feel more connected to the human race?
  • Does a light bulb go off in my head where I realize something about my own life? I let the writer know.
  • Does the piece get me to think? Act?
  • Does the last paragraph fit the entire piece?
  • Does the ending leave me satisfied or do I need to know more?
  • If the piece focuses on someone other than the author, what do I learn about the narrator?

In my critiques, I tell the author as much as I can about these points. These questions help me to remain focused on the presentation of the essay so I don't end up critiquing the content.

I always find things to say about an essay. If I can't find anything to critique (remember, that means the good as well as the needs-improvement), that means I can't point to any one thing I liked or didn't like, and that's not helpful to the writer. I wouldn't want someone critiquing my essay, the one I worked on for several hours, to draw a blank. So I am considerate of the work the author put into writing the essay for me, the reader.