Gaining Insights into

Personal Biases about Writing


By Dana Wall

It is up to each member of a writers’ group to request the type of response deemed most helpful at whatever stage a shared writing may be: (1) early draft, (2) revised work-in-progress, or (3) nearly finished manuscript. Writers’ groups often adopt guidelines for types of response to be given at each writing stage.  The group may then assume, for example, that a writer submitting a nearly finished draft is ready for proofreading help. Identifying the writing stage contributes positively to author empowerment. Obviously, it also helps the responder know what kind of critique to offer. 

Research has shown that response is most helpful when it is both positive and specific, at any writing stage. In many critique groups, authors read aloud and are in charge of response sessions.  If the piece is an early draft, the author says so and may request response to its strengths. The members listen with paper and pen in hand, jotting their thoughts or marking memorable words, constructions, and ideas in order to return to what they "like" when giving oral responses. "What I like about the paper is…"  "I like the way you…" “I am impressed by the development of…” for example. 

In other groups, members all have copies of the submissions and have responded, in writing, before the critique session begins.  Again, they concentrate on positive aspects of an early draft by marking what seems “memorable”: creative, descriptive, humorous, informative, poignant, revealing, surprising, unique, etc. Responders often want to ask curious questions having nothing to do with the writing itself. "What happened next?" for example.  At first, response can be most helpful when it is directed positively at the written words.  The group leader keeps each critique on track and, if there is time, allows those other questions after responses to the actual writing. The session then becomes a discussion between an author and readers. That type of interactive response is also valuable. 

Typically, second stage drafts, revised works-in-progress, are submitted for sharing sessions.  In addition to remarks about a paper’s strengths, the writer now also seeks comments concerning clarity, diction, meaning, message, organization, and intent. Critiques, however, are for promoting neither dialogue nor argument between writer and responder. It simply is not the purpose of a critique session to give the writer a chance to interrupt response and explain what was meant. The writer listens, resisting the urge to “defend” the manuscript, realizing that what any reader thinks about a piece of writing is what that reader thinks. If a reader is even slightly confused, then the writing was at least slightly confusing.  How to consider each critique is for the writer to decide later, at the writing desk. 

Response to a revised work-in-progress is also most helpful when stated as positive ideas for consideration, not as what the responder thinks the writer "should” do.  Telling a writer to change even one word, for example, is a request to alter meaning, at least subtly. That wrests partial ownership from the writer. The author is being told to re-write as the responder would have written, perhaps neither in the style nor with the intent of the original. Asking writers to consider the effects of alternative suggestions is more helpful. Whether or not to revise further and how to affect meaning remain the author’s decisions. 

When the piece is nearly finished, perhaps before, a writer may ask for response to include help with editing/proofreading. (Authors often claim their manuscripts are never truly “finished.”  They eventually stop revising, however, and seek to publish.) A few writers want editing help initially, with early drafts.  Many do not.  Marking typos and deviations from standard edited American English before it is requested seldom encourages writers. Until that request, responders can be most helpful by keeping response positive and resisting the temptation to show how much they know about editing.

About the Author

Dana Wall is a native Iowan, an educator, writer, and speaker living with his wife in Surprise, Arizona. Wall is the author of numerous education articles, four booklets celebrating the sounds of four different Midwestern states, and the humorous, book-length celebration of major American accents, Mare Kin: The Language We Speak Instead of English.

He facilitated summer institutes of the Iowa Writing Project for more than fifteen years and now teaches classes in memoir writing for senior citizens as part of Arizona State University West’s “Lifelong Learning Academy.” 

Among his other publication credits is a “My Turn” article in NEWSWEEK and “Turning Point” in Readers Digest magazine. Wall is a member of The Writers Round Table Phoenix and has an excerpt form a novel-in-progress published in that group’s anthology, Sonoran Mirage.


Sonoran Mirage Anthology

Sonoran Mirage

with contributing author

Dana Wall



Mare Kin: The Language We Speak Instead of English

Mare Kin:

The Language We Speak

Instead of English



Articles                                                              Return to Top



Writers Round Table Phoenix          Get Online Fast! Only $7.49 domains at GoDaddy.com


© 2004-2011 Dynamic Writers

Some images and other links on this page will redirect your browser to

another website and become subject to their terms of use and privacy policy.

privacy policy