How to give (and receive) constructive feedback

We’ve put together a short list of tips and ideas that we hope will guide you in the best ways to give constructive feedback on another person’s poetry, and how best to take it on board yourself.

Showing someone else your writing can be a really daunting experience. However confident you feel about your work, however many poems you have bristling in your notebooks or filling up folders on your laptop, sharing that work with another person is something that lots of us can feel anxious about – even if we’re dying for some feedback.

Giving feedback

  • Remember the writer. Sharing work with another person takes courage, and you should always be mindful of this when offering your feedback. You don’t have to lie, or sugarcoat what you’re saying, but remember that poetry isn’t written in a vacuum – there’s a real person, with real feelings, behind it, and being instantly dismissive or negative about a piece of work is neither helpful nor kind.
  • Don’t deal in generalities. If you’re drawn to a striking phrase, or the rhythm isn’t quite working, try and pinpoint exactly why that is. Being able to say “the build-up of images in this poem is a bit overwhelming for me; try just using one or two”, or “the language you use in the second stanza is more formal than in the rest of the poem, which I find confusing” is much more helpful to the poet than just “I like this” or “I’m not so keen on that”. Worst of all is saying “I can’t explain why I like/ don’t like this, I just do”, as this doesn’t highlight anything for the poet to work on, or to remember for next time.
  • Avoid extreme responses. “I hate” or “I love” aren’t necessarily constructive phrases, and you risk sounding a) a bit clichéd b)as if you’re dashing off a quick response without really examining your reaction to the writing.
  • Writing is subjective. Just because something in the poem isn’t working for you, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong, or that it must be changed. No two poets will have exactly the same opinion on a piece of writing and, however experienced or skilled you are, remember that you aren’t the oracle – and you shouldn’t be offended if the poet you’re critiquing doesn’t accept your suggestions.
  • Engage in a conversation. It’s often easier to discuss the poem(s) with their author one-on-one; this way, you can explain your ideas and opinions and better understand theirs, rather than just offer a one-way view on the work.
  • Offer a reading recommendation. The more you read, the better you write – at least we think so. Recommending some poetry to read, listen to or watch is a good way to round off a feedback session, particularly if the work you’re suggesting is a good example of a style or technique that the person you’re critiquing is struggling with. Ask them for their own poetry recommendations in turn.

Receiving feedback

  • Think about who you’re asking. If you want constructive, honest feedback (and really, what’s the point in anything else?), ask someone who can deliver just that. If you know that your Mum, or your sister, or your mates will just sing your praises whatever you stick under their noses, by all means show them your writing, but don’t rely on them for a genuine critique! A teacher, a friend who also writes, a mentor at a writing group or organisation – these might be better bets. You could also think about whether you’d prefer one-on-one feedback, or whether you might benefit more from a crit group, where a small number of people take it in turn to read and critique one another’s writing. 
  • Remember that you shouldn’t share your work with anyone unless you feel comfortable in doing so. It’s fine to feel a bit nervous about sharing, but if you feel actively unhappy at the thought of someone reading your work, or someone is pressuring you to do it, don’t. Your poetry doesn’t have to be anyone’s business but yours; not if you don’t want it to be. 

Pencil and sharpener with shavings laying on a notebook

  • Avoid the wrong kind of feedback platforms. It’s really easy to receive an instant reaction to something via the internet, particularly social media. That can be compelling – but it can also be unregulated, unfiltered and very damaging. Our strongest advice is that anonymous commenters are rarely going to offer helpful or constructive feedback on poetry you post yourself online, and that this is best avoided. Online magazines and poetry websites like Young Poets Network can monitor any comments made on a piece of writing, and ensure that only helpful, positive feedback reaches the author.
  • Ask questions. Don’t just nod along with what the other person is saying – you’re not likely to remember what’s been said if you do. If you don’t understand a point of their criticism, say so, and ask for clarification. If you think a line’s been misunderstood, or a poem’s been interpreted in a way you hadn’t thought about, explain, and see if there’s a way to make it clearer for both of you. If you’re not actively engaging in the critique, it will be much harder to successfully edit your poems when you come to look at them later.
  • Be gracious. It can be hard to take on negative feedback about your work, however tactfully it’s phrased. If you can adopt a positive attitude towards criticism, however, you’ll be in a better frame of mind to improve your writing. You’ll also make a more positive impression on those reading your work than if you grumpily reject or refuse to engage with their suggestions, and perhaps put yourself in a better position to receive more advice and support further down the line. Even if you disagree with their comments (and there’s no compulsion to change your work if you really don’t agree with the feedback) be open, receptive and grateful to the person who’s given their time to read your poems.

Do you have a top tip on how to share and receive writing feedback? We’d love to hear your ideas – and your experiences – in the comments section below, or you can email us at [email protected]

Published January, 2017

9 thoughts on “How to give (and receive) constructive feedback

  1. Thanks so much – this has been really helpful. Me and my writer friend always swap idea’s and feedback, so this article has been very informative and given me a better understanding on how to critique anthers work. One thing that I 100% agree with is don’t go to family for honest criticism, they either praise it’s the best poem or tell you it’s rubbish! I was so encouraged when I found this website, its nice to know I’m not the only teenager writing poetry ; )

    1. Hi Susannah,

      We’re really pleased to hear that you’ve found this feature so useful – thanks for sharing your own tip as well! Best of luck with your writing.

      Young Poets Network

  2. I don’t really have anyone to review my poems who knows enough about poetry to give constructive criticism. Do you have any recommendations for places or websites I could go to get feedback?

    1. Hi Willow,

      Depending on where you’re based, we’d recommend seeking out an organisation which runs an established group for young writers. If you’re based in England, New Writing North, New Writing South, Writing East Midlands and Writing West Midlands all run groups (or have information about groups) which welcome young writers and would offer opportunities for you to share and receive feedback on your work. Pleas email us at [email protected] if you’d like some more specific information.

      All best wishes,

      Young Poets Network

  3. This was really helpful and it gave me a lot of information I didn’t know about poems and I learned a lot of interesting facts about this and I feel a lot better that I read this and now I feel like I understand this a little better now. And the whole thing about the website has been really helpful and I’ve learned a lot from this site and I am going to recommend this to my friends so they can understand this better too.

    1. Hi Miranda,

      That’s lovely to hear – I’m so pleased you enjoyed this feature. If you’d like to be notified when we upload new features and challenges like this one, sign up to our newsletter:

      Best of luck with your poetry!

      Helen at Young Poets Network

  4. This article is really great and informative. I make short animated poetry videos. If you are a poetry lover, consider checking it out ,I’m sure you will like it. Have a nice day. 🙂
    Channel name: Shreya’s Poetry

  5. I am an Anglophone poetry aficionado in mainland China so one material difficulty with developing my craft is that there is not much of an audience here with which I can engage on equal terms,technically,linguistically,or philosophically.It’ll be wonderful to connect with some kindred souls through YPN,so that productive and formative exchanges can cross-pollinate the art and life of all involved.How might I find a poetry pal?

    1. Hi Lucie,

      Lovely to hear from you! It’s great to hear that you’re a poetry fan. I know you’ve already entered some YPN challenges and I’d encourage you to keep entering, as we’re able to celebrate and offer even more opportunities to challenge winners. If you’re not already on our mailing list, do sign up so you hear about opportunities like online workshops and events. Do also check out other organisations’ Poetry Opportunities, some of which you may be eligible for: There are lots of youth-led magazines like Risen and Little Stone Journal which would be interested in reading your work, I’m sure. Good luck with your poetry journey!

      Best wishes,

      Helen at Young Poets Network

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