The following thoughts and direct quotes are taken from Writing Alone, Writing Together: A Guide for Writers and Writing Groups by Judy Reeves.
When critiquing a piece:
"The piece in question...is what the exchange is about, not what the writer intended to write or how much the critiquer knows. It isn't about the writer's skill. The dialogue concerns only what is on the page and how well it meets its mark or, if it doesn't, where, specifically, it veers off course."
"We don't teach anybody anything by being cruel to them or through disrespecting their work."
"This is not to say that critique, honestly and objectively and kindly given, doesn't hurt sometimes. We writers are a sensitive bunch, how else could we do what we do?"
"No matter how long we've been writing, when we tell the truth on the page, we have exposed ourselves and made ourselves vulnerable. You can't do one without the other. So when someone tells us something isn't working, or wasn't as effective as we thought, or goes off the mark, it is as natural as tears to wince a little at the bruising."
"Every now and again, someone takes up time picking one of those nits of spelling or the use of a cliche, or a line edit. But ideally those things are simply noted on the manuscript and discussion is devoted to larger issues."
How to Critique:
Be honest, objective, and kind. Tell how the piece affects you as a reader.
Respond only to the work being read, not the writer's previous work, the writer herself, her hairdo, or the company she keeps.
Critique the elements of the craft, not the content. The writer is the only one who can say what he wants to write about, and ideally, he will write about what matters to him, what he is passionate about.
Be specific in your comments.
Move away from your personal opinions of like/don't like to what works in the writing and what doesn't work.
What to Critique:Voice
Point of View
Compelling or Predictable/Fresh or Trite
"Keep your critique to what's on the page. Critique the elements of the craft, not the content. Be specific. Be honest, objective, and kind."
If there are any words on this list that you are unfamiliar with, make sure to look them up and become familiar with them. As writers, we are responsible to educate ourselves about our craft.
One last thing, before you submit a piece for critique, please make sure that you have gone over it yourself at least once.
Are there any questions? Comments?