I feel like Jeff would want to close this kind of question as too localized, but at the same time I feel like something like this could have merit.

Perhaps we could allow examples as illustrations within the context of a broader question?

This doesn't encompass copy-editing, but more stylistic and fundamental elements.

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This question (writers.stackexchange.com/questions/665/…) is an example of something I'd deem on-topic that contains a writing sample. –  justkt Dec 3 '10 at 14:27
    
@juskt, I agree. I hope people will ask more questions like the one you posted. We'll need a standard tag for all of them, perhaps: [critique-my-work]. –  Amichai Dec 3 '10 at 15:12
    
@Ami - I'd be afraid that tag would lead people to post the off-topic types of questions. For now I think we should stick with tags that describe the question that the user has about the work. –  justkt Dec 3 '10 at 15:35
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5 Answers 5

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Important:

Policy change: Writing critique questions now welcome

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I think examples as illustrations within the context of a question would be on-topic.

Asking for a general critique of writing sounds like not a real question as it would be difficult to provide a specific answer that could be judged objectively as the answer.

--Edited to expand on the above thoughts --

If you are sharing a snippet of your writing that illustrates a tightly focused, carefully thought-out question, this is an on-topic question. If you are asking for a generic critique, you should do it in a place other than a question and answer (note that answer is in the singular) site. This site is about providing you the answer to your question.

An appropriate question might be "Where can I go to get a short story critiqued?" In the answers to that question you might find suggestions for writer's workshops, websites, forums, and other means of garnering critique that you've not thought of. Those places, which could be found through this community, will be a better location for doing what you've described by means of their design. In the ways we use this site, we want to always ask ourselves "What is this software good for?" Otherwise we are using the wrong tool to get a job done.

Note that the community is currently pioneering a writer's version of SO's "code golf" where writing exercises are attempted as CW posts by community members. This may be a place where writing is critiqued in the comments.

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we've backed away from this idea that only objective information can ever be posted, though -- see blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/09/good-subjective-bad-subjective –  Jeff Atwood Jan 4 '11 at 22:13
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Personally I agree with the point of view that a Writer's Stack should not be a Writer's Circle. There are other online services for that and it invalidates the purpose of a Writer's Q&A if you go to a live Q&A and ask "could you look over my manuscript" that wouldn't go over well at all. Same should apply here.

However, on classic SO there are often exercises in "code golf" where little programs or algorithms are toyed with for a little intellectual refreshment. I just gave a rather in depth critique of two paragraphs of prose. The question was couched in terms of defining which words in the original were "unnecessary" too, which helped. I don't really see a problem with that as long as it is quite clearly "unnecessary word" or "lightning edit" golf.

The only thing I would say is that I can't see how the latter case would be as useful to the questioner as flat out asking "What, in your opinion, are unnecessary words?" (Except that runs the risk of being too general and not having a real answer.)

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Yes, but "Can you improve my code?" questions on SO tend to get closed quickly. Code golf is not so much a critique as a contest with clearly defined rules, and the winner is not the one with good style (indeed, code golf answers tend to be pretty bad style). –  David Thornley Dec 11 '10 at 19:15
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When I initially read this post (quite a while back) I was strongly opposed to writing critiques - it seemed like something better reserved for a forum than for Stack Exchange. Maybe it is, but after reading Does a Writers Stack Exchange even make sense? and Is writers.se in risk of failure? I started thinking more about the strengths and weaknesses of the Stack Exchange learning format, which led me to reevaluate the question posted here. Here are my thoughts:

If we don't allow for something along the lines of a critique, eventually people are going to run out of questions to ask and answers to give. I own a huge number of fictional writing books at home. The vast number of them address the exact same thing: characters, viewpoints, dialogue, plot, structure, description, setting, character building, editing, and publishing advice.

Book after book covers one or more of these topics - and that's it. And honestly, the number of questions raised in these books are fairly limited - it's just bringing a different author's perspective to the same old questions. About the only "objective" books I've got (ones where the answers are almost always consistently the same) are the books on publishing advice - everything else depends on the author and his/her own style.

It seems like the rate of questions are dying down quite a bit. Many of the big questions have been asked - sometimes more than once. More specific questions are being asked, but one of the problems with asking very (good) specific questions is that you have to know something to ask them. Oftentimes, the measure of a person's knowledge is not determined in the answers they have, but rather the quality of their questions.

As an amateur writer, I don't know what kinds of questions to always even ask about my work. That's why critique circles are so important. They don't just teach me what to do better - they actually teach me what questions to ask about my writing.

I don't know that there are enough experienced writers and authors on here to ask the more specific and (possibly) important questions - I'm not even sure what those questions might be! At the same time, the better the question (in this regard), the more knowledgeable the people you need in order to answer them. I can give my input about certain fictional writing questions - but there comes a point where it's just out of my league. I imagine that's true for a lot of people on here. And, unfortunately, if some of us did try and answer those questions, you'd probably just get bad answers.

Critiques are where authors really live and learn - I don't know a lot, but that much I do know. Every good advanced college writing course focuses on critiques and addressing specific prose - either a student's, the teacher's, or another author's.

I feel like a broken record saying this, but: I don't really know exactly how to fix this problem, either - those are just my thoughts on the matter. I'm not sure broad, open critiques are the way to go. It seems like SE isn't built well for that. On the other hand, banning critiques binds especially us newbie, amateur writers in that we probably aren't going to know what specific kind of questions to ask most of the time without help and guidance.

It seems like there ought to be some sort of middle-ground.

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might this question be an illustration of the kind of middle ground you are looking for? –  justkt Dec 22 '10 at 19:15
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I know I don't have a say but I disagree. I am more likely to stay in a community that has questions, answers, and critique. It's not like SO. Your programming is not really something you desperately need critiqued. You'll get comments on it and sure people put their homework on there, but in writing people need feedback. Again, if I had the SO style of questions and answers and critique, now that would be worth staying for.

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code reviews at offices most certainly exist and are at least as comprehensive as a critique given by a typical writing group - in my experience far more so. Also, the community as a whole has something of a say, within the parameters set by the parent StackExchange organization. The problem with "critique my writing" is that such posts aren't actually questions with objective, voteable answers. They don't fit this paradigm very well. –  justkt Dec 8 '10 at 17:22
    
@justkt maybe not but I think people would want a site that had as close to that as possible, even if not perfect. I was just thinking it would make a more well rounded site. –  johnny Dec 8 '10 at 17:36
    
the software, as I elaborated on in my edit above, is simply not built for that. –  justkt Dec 8 '10 at 17:40
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I don't think well-roundedness is the goal here, or should be. The goal is posing and answering specific, answerable questions. Allowing general, "what do you think of this" critique would degrade the focus. There are other websites where you can get critiques. On the other hand, you can post a passage and ask a specific question about it like, "Did I make it clear enough why Snidgaard is angry at Doonscrod?" I think that's a good use of the site, as long as it's focused and specific. –  Ethan Dec 13 '10 at 19:18
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