About a month ago I mentioned how one way to improve your writing is to critique someone else’s writing. I described an exercise for critiquing that I’d learned in a creative writing course a number of years ago and offered to critique a post for anyone interested. Rudy Lopes agreed to be the subject for the experiment, the result of which follows.
First let me apologize for taking so long to get to the critique. I had promised it a few weeks ago and while I’d like to offer some wonderful excuse, the truth is I simply forgot. My bad, but fortunately I remembered and better late than never.
Since Rudy’s posts are generally on the shorter side I used two recent posts for the critique, both on the subject of the Mitchell Report, which investigated steroids in baseball. The two posts in question are:
If you remember from the last post the general idea of this kind of critique is to underline portions of the text you like and add squgglys beneath the parts you don’t like. Questions about grammar and punctuation get circled. You can really circle anything you have a question about, but I think the original exercise had grammar in mind for the circles.
All of those marks would be a little difficult to present here so I’m making the Word Document I sent to Rudy available for download. Just right click on the link and save it.
If squigglys are a possibility in Word I don’t know how to make them happen so I used red in their place. And since I was going with color I used green in place of the underline. I didn’t end up having any questions (probably a reflection on my own poor grammar than anything else) so there was nothing to circle, which is probably a good things as I’m not sure I would have known how in Word. Can you tell I’m not a Word power user?
The meat of the critique is the three things I liked and the three suggestions for improvement, which I will present here. You’ll want to read Rudy’s posts for them to make sense and to gain a better understanding of how this works. Rudy’s posts are quick reads so visit the links above or download the Word Doc.
3 Things I liked
- The writing is clean, simple, easy and enjoyable to read. It’s very natural. I can hear the developing voice of the writer. I can hear the person behind the words.
- It’s clear what the opinion of the author is without going over the top. There is a clear side taken in each post, which adds to the voice mentioned above. The opinion isn’t shouted at me, but I know what it is.
- I like how this convoluted sentence in the Mitchell Report was explained.
“…the Major League Baseball joint drug program did not provide for discipline based on ‘non-analytic evidence’ (that is, evidence of use that is not derived from sources other than a drug test.)”
was explained as
you couldn’t punish any player unless he failed a drug test. If he publicly stated he took steroids, or shot up in the middle of the stadium, or was convicted of manufacturing and selling steroids, you couldn’t punish him. And since the Players Association generally seemed to hinder whatever pathetic moves the Commissioner’s office made, often the drug test (if it ever happened) came so long after any suspicions that it was unlikely to show up anything.
The explanation clears up the double talk and gets to the heart of the issue. Something I might have glossed over now becomes central to my understanding of the issue.
3 Suggestions for Improvement
- I want more: more detail, more opinion, more words. There’s a lot of good within these short posts, which makes me want more. I think both could be expanded and made longer or the ideas of both could be combined into one longer post. Each post raises interesting questions that beg for more.
- In the second post I would replace the final
“Oh, and Joey says Mitchell has cooties too.”
“What country do we live in, again?”
Repeating the second line above one last time makes the other two occurrences of the line stronger and carries the theme (presumption of innocence) throughout the post. In the first post the sentence
“The whole situation underlines the problem with drug abuse in sports, and in baseball particularly. I just hope people recognize that under the United States Constitution, there is a little concept called the presumption of innocence — you know, people being innocent until proven guilty.”
also makes the same point. Both posts could be combined into one longer post covering the Mitchell report with a main theme of “innocent until proven guilty.” The line, “What country do we live in, again?”, could be used throughout to punctuate this theme.
- The suspicions of ethical compromise between George Mitchell and his position with the Red Sox could be fleshed out more (perhaps a new post). I’m not sure it fits here with the presumption of innocence theme. There may be nothing to these suspicions, but there’s enough for further exploration. If anything these suspicions are pushing guilty until proven innocent by raising the issue without concrete proof.
My guess is the reason for the many Yankees named in the report, but few Red Sox named is simply that the two main sources of information are a Mets Clubhouse attendant and the personal trainer of Roger Clemens. It’s only natural they would have more contact with people passing through New York than with those passing through Boston.
Where the ethical questions might arise is why were these two people the only resources cited? It’s likely there are/were equivalent people in the clubhouse of most teams. Was there access to any of these other people and if so why aren’t they included in the report? Also why release the report at all, or at least the names, given the report only covers a small part of what was going on?
These questions might be a good start for further exploration.
Thoughts on Blog Critiques
As I did with my last post I want to emphasize again how useful these critiques can be for both the critiquer and the critiquee. You may disagree with some of what someone says about your writing, but even if you do the comments can be insightful. They’ll generally get you to think about a few things you hadn’t considered before.
I think these exercises are even more beneficial for the person doing the critique, particularly the last part, suggestions for improvement. Thinking about how you would improve someone else’s post will teach you a lot about how to improve your blog. You’ll be able to see things in someone else’s writing that remain hidden in your own. This part of the exercise will also train you to look analytically at your writing and help you develop your craft.
If you haven’t already done so, give critiquing a try. Offer to exchange critiques with a fellow blogger or just pick a post you’ve read and write up a critique. You don’t need to tell the other person if you don’t want to, but it can be helpful to have someone else critique your work as well.
Who’s next? I’ll extend the invitation to critique one or two of your blog posts if you want. Feel free to critique a post here if you’d like. If you do let me know since I’m always open to hearing what others think.
Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.