As I mentioned on my previous post, Guidelines for Writing Fiction Critiques, the most important guideline for a critique is to give an honest, constructive, and polite assessment of the writing. All comments should be about the words written, not about the person writing them.
Here are the steps I follow when doing a thorough critique of nonfiction:
1. Overall Impressions: Evaluate the work as a reader.
a. Content: Does it open with something that captures your attention and makes you want to keep reading? Does the pace seem appropriate for the type of information being covered? Can you clearly identify the subject or main idea? Is the main idea supported by evidence, anecdotes, interviews, viewpoints, or some other method?
b. Audience: Is it clear who the target audience is for the book, article, or essay? Is the tone, language, and reading level appropriate for that audience?
c. Format: Is it following standard submission guidelines for that type of work, or is it tailored towards guidelines of a specific market? Is it organized logically, so the reader can follow the development of the topic or progression of the events?
2. The Mechanics: Evaluate the work for structural strengths and weaknesses.
a. Structure: Were paragraphs and sentences appropriate in length for the type of information presented? Would varying their length add interest or adjust the pace more effectively? Does the choice of words feel appropriate? Is the information presented in a way that the target audience will find easy to understand? Does the conclusion summarize the main points effectively, or bring the work to a satisfying end?
b. Grammar: Are there obvious mistakes in grammar and spelling? Are there too many clichés in the narrative or dialog?
c. Extras: If there are sidebars, charts, graphs, pictures, or other supporting documents, do they support the premise, theme, arguments, or hypothesis? Are they formatted properly and annotated in the body of the work?
For related information on creative nonfiction, see my post from 3-12-09.
Have I overlooked any important topics to be covered in a nonfiction critique? What are you most interested in when someone critiques your nonfiction writing?