**Approach every workshop as if you were a reader encountering the work for the first time. If you become confused as a reader, you need to tell the writer about it. When the reader does not understand, the writer has not done his/her job.
**When you workshop a partner's essay, do not just mark what is wrong; focus on how to help the writer solve the problem. If something looks or sounds wrong and you really do not understand what the problem is, seek a second opinion. Ask me for help. Between us, we should come up with some helpful advice. If I'm not immediately available, write in the margin, "I think you should see Ms. McMahon about this." Otherwise, give specific advice on how the writer can improve the section of writing.
**The "I don't want to hurt the writer's feelings" syndrome: Remember, if you say it's good when it isn't, you will hurt this writer's feelings even more when he/she is surprised by a low grade on the essay. He/she will remember that you were not honest or competent enough as a reader to help him/her revise the draft adequately. But be honest, not cruel.
**How can I critique without being cruel: First, explain how you understood the passage and compare that with the writer's explanation. Next, ask questions: "I'm not sure if you mean X or Y at this point. Could you clarify this for me?" "You seem to be saying X here. How does this fit in with your main idea or purpose? Perhaps you could make the connection clearer." Finally, give specific advice about the problems: "Look again in the text at page 148" or "Why not try this approach for a lead-in?"
**What if I think the essay is great? No essay is perfect; ask any professional writer! You should always be able to offer some advice to strengthen the piece. Where the essay is strong, be sure to point that out: writers learn by recognizing their strengths. But be sure to finish your worksheet by explaining carefully how and why certain parts are strong and how and where they could be even stronger.