How to Become a Better Critic
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Huh what?

Hi, Communism will win AKA Scantron here. As of late, I've noticed a problem with how this site handles feedback. Specifically, a lot of it is bad. This essay exists to help people leave better comments.

Thanks, but I already give good feedback.

You may very well be right, seeing as how I don't know who you are. If you think you can do better, though, keep reading. And if you really DO give good feedback, this essay can help you teach other people how to do it.

Who are you? Why should I listen to you?

I joined the site in 2010, racked up a very high post count, wrote 50ish articles, and enjoyed a stint as a Moderator a while back. I've left a lot of good feedback, received a lot of good feedback, left a lot of bad feedback, and received a lot of bad feedback. I got banned for the third one of those, and then came back a year later to see people making the same mistakes I've made, plus a few.

But there's only one way to find out whether I have anything to teach you, and it's not by looking at my credentials.

Why shouldn't I just read Kalinin's essay?

You should read it, actually. That essay explains the goals and issues with the site's criticism that I only reference. When you're finished, come back here so I can give you tips for bringing that philosophy to life.

Alright then. How do I become a better critic?

Let's start out with the golden rule: Tell the author what they need to hear. This is not an exact science, but you still need to try to figure out who you're dealing with, and then give them advice that suits their needs. Your own need to feel superior, getting attention, and the approval (or disapproval) of your peers are all irrelevant.

As a corollary, If the problem was obvious, the author would have already fixed it. This is actually codified in the Criticism Policy, but it goes a bit deeper than that. The principle applies to any critique that implicitly assumes the author already knows what they did wrong.

If you follow those guidelines, you can make consistently helpful posts no matter how good you are at writing, but that's easier said than done. Let's go over the kinds of article you'll be reading and some tips that you can fall back on when criticizing them.

What it is: Exactly what it sounds like. The Train Wreck is usually posted by users who have very little experience with the site. Formatting, clinical tone, logic, and/or the overall tone of the site are not attended to, and as a result, these often bear little resemblance to successful articles. There is a serious possibility that the author is underage, given their awkward use of English.

Tips for commenting:

  • Don't. Usually, the authors who make Train Wrecks give no indication that they even read the discussion page. These authors need language skills, internet fluency, and patience — which you can't give them — more than they need critique. Your energy, and the site's attention, is better directed towards people who will benefit from it.
  • Speak plainly. If the author did demonstrate that they are reading the discussion page, try to use grammatically simple sentences and common words. Avoid any and all site-specific terms or jargon. They might get confused otherwise.
  • Address the broader problem. The problem is not the specific mistakes they made in this piece, it's that they don't have the skillset to do better. Instead of picking apart the article's issues, suggest that the author should focus on their overall reading and writing skills, and they might want to wait a few years before writing SCPs.
  • Don't grandstand. Making fun of a Train Wreck is easy. Whether you do so is not my concern, but absolutely do not do it on the site or chat. Nobody needs to hear how this is the Absolute Worst Piece You've Ever Seen, or how you could totally beat it in a fight because you're half dragon, or whatever clever comment you were going to add. If you want recognition that badly, write your own article, or make a memorably helpful post.
  • Be nice. Being overly harsh is dickish and not particularly helpful — kids who respond well to harsh criticism are few and far between. Kids also don't respond well to condescension, so don't talk down to them either. You can attend to problems that arise on account of age while still treating them as an equal.

I don't have the [time/energy/fucks] to read or follow all these guidelines.

You don't have to. Not every post has to be long enough to incorporate every relevant suggestion. However, keep in mind that sometimes it's better not to post at all. Nobody's assessment — not yours, not mine — is worth anything before it has some effort and insight put in, so if you don't have any to spare, let somebody else handle it. Half-assed critique can be confusing and/or misleading.

The article I want to criticize doesn't fit into one of these categories.

Improvise. These categories are generalizations, and while I happen to think they're useful generalizations, there's always something that breaks the mold. Consider this essay a toolbox that you can pick ideas from when they seem appropriate.

I don't like [insert tip], or it's just not relevant any more.

Let me know in the comments section. I'd like for this to be a living document, not something embedded in site lore that users ape from here to eternity.

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