Asking for critique is off topic. Asking for how to improve your writing is on topic.

What is the actual difference? In both cases the person asking provides an example of their own writing and asks for help improving it.

There is a site proposal to address the lack created by the prohibition of asking for critique, but I'm convinced it won't take off. And I see that some members are very skilled at cloaking their requests for critique by embedding them in a more general question and providing an "illustrative example" from their own writing in such a manner that if you answer the general question you will edit the sample to illustrate your answer, effectively providing the editing that this site forbids to ask for.

Why don't we just make this on topic?

For one, I really feel that the critique of an individual text still gives me a great learning experience when I read it, even though it appears to be limited to that specific text at first glance.

Secondly, I feel that Stack Overflow, the godlike image that all other sites are created after, does just that: it is perfectly on topic there to post part or all of your code, say it doesn't work, and ask for help. It is off topic on SO to ask people to code for you, but it is on topic to ask for pointers on what is wrong with your code. All that is necessary is that you show that you tried to solve your problem yourself.

Folling that example, I think it should be on topic here to post all or part of your writing, say that you feel it doesn't work, and ask for help in improving it. People can then post (partially) corrected versions of (part of) the text, explaining what they did and why, helping the person asking to understand and then implement this understanding in further improvements.

The only limitation I would set up is that people asking questions don't just post text and ask to "correct that". Requests for corrections should remain off topic. But this limitation will implement itself, as it does on SO, where people simply do not give answers or vote to close when people don't show any initial work of their own and try to abuse the generosity of the community.

I would therefore propose to experimentally make requests for critique on topic for a limited time (say, three months), effectively merging the site proposal with Writers, and at the end of the period evaluate our experience with that experiment.

If requests for critique begin to overwhelm all other content, or if we dislike it for some other reason, we can easily make critique off topic again.

Here is an old discussion: How are critique questions working out for us?

As for the objection that looking at the bad writing of others doesn't help anyone else, I want to point out that:

  • helping in improving that writing is some of the best writing exercise you can do, and

  • all sites, but mostly Stack Overflow, are full of questions that are so limited that they will be useful to almost no-one or that have become obsolete because they address (versions of) software that is no longer in use. Everyone on SO knows that every question on that site will become obsolete eventually, yet they are not made off topic for their future uselessness. There is no reason we need to make something off topic here because in the future it will no longer be of use, either, it is enough that it is of use to everyone taking the time to answer that question.


2 Answers 2


I would be very concerned about opening the forum up to critiques. Not because it would crowd out topics that are more generally useful (which is a valid concern), but because critiques from amateurs like us are total bullshit..

We will do far, far more harm than good.

We will hurt people.

  • 1
    Ah? The same is true for all answers given here.
    – user5645
    Aug 10, 2015 at 6:00
  • 1
    There are better reasons to disallow critiques than this. It's up to the author to decide what advice to take and what advice to disregard. Aug 11, 2015 at 1:26

The problem with "here's some text; please critique it" is that it's not useful to anybody else. Even if a question draws a good, thoughtful, general answer from which you can learn, how is anybody ever going to find it? It's not going to show up in Google searches for, say, "writing realistic teenager dialogue" or "introducing a huge ensemble cast all at once" or "writing evocative physical descriptions".

Our current guidelines call for people to identify the problem they're trying to solve. Ask a question about teen dialogue, for example, and then use examples from your own work if you like. That gives us a useful question about a topic that other people can (a) benefit from and (b) find via search, and it also gives the asker the feedback he's looking for. I don't think that level of analysis and presentation is too much to ask of people.

A site about providing reviews or critiques would be very different from a site about writing more generally. That's why Code Review is a separate site from Stack Overflow and Programmers. I haven't followed CR closely, but anybody looking to make critiques work on Stack Exchange should study what they've done.

I just took a look at the proposal you linked to for Writing Critiques. Several of the upvoted example questions would be on-topic here because they're not really critiques in the sense of our off-topic reason. All of these seem fine to me; they ask specific writing questions:

  • Any ideas how I can improve this dialog? It feels stilted and unnatural to me.

  • I feel that this is a weak beginning. How can I get it to hook the reader?

  • I'm a woman writing a male narrator. What can I do to improve the authenticity of my narrator's voice?

  • Am I using too many metaphors? How can I tell?

  • How can I make my narrative voice (as displayed in this sample) more consistent? (Assuming the question elaborates on the perceived consistency problem.)

  • I'm having trouble really getting into the head of each of my characters. How can I keep their voices distinct without making them caricatures?

  • 1
    I observe that on many days more questions are put on hold than pass. This is a sign for me that people expect a different thing from a site giving advice for writers. If we want to ever come out of beta, maybe we should give the people what they want.
    – user5645
    Aug 10, 2015 at 6:15
  • Lowering site quality is not a path to graduation. That people want to ask them does not make them good questions for this site. It seems to me that when critiques & other off-topic questions increase, on-topic questions to & from experts decrease. Critique can be done well (c.f. Code Review), but it hasn't been done well here and it would be a major change in site flavor, so proposing a new site is the better way to go (just as you wouldn't jam code reviews into Programmers or SO). But, again, most of the sample questions on that proposal aren't actually critique, so it needs some work. Aug 10, 2015 at 13:31
  • Maybe you are right.
    – user5645
    Aug 10, 2015 at 16:10

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