You have been asked to critique someone else’s writing. What do you do? This approach assumes that you genuinely want to offer valuable advice on how someone else can improve their writing.
If possible read it multiple times.
The first time you want to just get a feel for what is going on. If you notice major grammatical problems or other issues that you think might need to be pointed out, mark them but don’t worry too much right then.
On the second read, look for grammar issues and anything that confuses you. Where is the language unclear? Where do you not understand what they are saying or their actual meaning? Does anything in the writing not make sense? (Wow, that character mysteriously vanished… what happened to him?)
If possible write your comments on the text itself when there is a grammar or clarity issue and try to be as clear as possible regarding what is confusing you.
On your third read you should have a pretty good feel for what is going on and if there are any major structural issues that need to be improved. This is where you should look for stylistic and consistency issues. Does that sophisticated gentleman use the word “um” frequently (that’s not very sophisticated is it)? Is the author starting too many sentences with the same word or phrase? Does anything bother you or seem clunky.
This is what I call an editor style critique, and you should really only approach the writing this way if you have been specifically asked for this type of feedback. In other words if your friend just said “what do you think of this” they may not want you to pick apart all their grammar errors, so make sure you know what they are asking for.
It is invaluable feedback though, especially if you can learn how to do it well for your own work. Remember, the goal in this case is to give the writer good advice on how they can improve their work. Also, keep in mind that they are always free to not take your advice and you should not take that decision personally.
Finally, think about what you personally liked or disliked in the writing. Did you have some philosophic problem, or ethical problem with some idea or character?
When you have done this you will have a good idea of what you want to write in your critique.
This is when you write. If possible write grammar critiques directly on the work itself and return that to them, so that your written feedback can focus on explaining points of confusion, style, and what you personally feel about the writing itself. Begin and end your critique by saying something positive. This is where you talk about what you think the strongest elements are, or what impressed you the most. If you really only have one positive thing to talk about, focus on it in the beginning and reference it again in your conclusion.
The middle should be the meat and potatoes of your critique. This is where you write all about all the things you noticed in your read-throughs, and EXPLAIN what you mean. If possible give an example of how the problem you perceive can be cleared up or improved.
Share any ideas you have, and try to point out any time your issue with the writing is due to your own personal taste and is not necessarily a problem with the writing itself. Always, always, always be diplomatic and as friendly as possible with your critiques, even if you hated the writing itself. Remember you’re advice is to help this writer improve not to demonstrate your skills as a critic.