What makes a good critical friend?

In my post about my comprehensive exam writing strategies, I mentioned the importance of a critical friend. During my online Master's program, they strongly recommended that everyone find a critical friend before we went into the thesis writing phase of the program. Although I had two "critical friends" during my master process, they were "critical friends" in name only. They didn't provide the same support that I have now come to appreciate from a true critical friend. I didn't really understand what it meant to have a critical friend or really what type of person makes a good critical friend until I found one. So I thought I'd share a little more about what makes a good critical friend.

First and foremost, you need to find someone whose opinion you respect. If you don't respect their opinion, then you are wasting both their time and your time.

Second, you must feel comfortable sharing your naked writing with your critical friend. Sharing first drafts can make you feel rather vulnerable, as you are exposing your unpolished work. You need to be comfortable enough to accept feedback from this person without emotional attachments. Anyone who is responsible for evaluating your work does not make a good critical friend.

Third, you cannot be in a competitive relationship with this friend. This is why peers in the same academic year or program are not always your best choice for critical friends. When there is even the slightest sense of competition, then the review process becomes about comparing, rather than about providing authentic feedback (even if it is subconscious). You must both feel that there is no sense of competition for the critical friend relationship to work.

And finally, your critical friend must be willing to be critical of your work and you must be willing to take the feedback (see my second comment about accepting feedback without emotional attachments). In an academic setting, it is often useful to have a critical friend who is from a different field, that way they can point out when you are making assumptions in your writing (this is always a concern when you are an expert in your field).

I am lucky to have found the perfect critical friend. I deeply respect her and I am grateful for all the help she has given me. She helps me see the weaknesses in my arguments, and pushes me to improve. And although I am not emotionally attached to the feedback she provides, I feel a huge sense of accomplishment when she complements my writing. Thank-you critical friend!

3 Comments on What makes a good critical friend?

  1. Hi, I think I may be your critical friend. If so, you're very welcome. Some other characteristics of a critical friend: insatiable curiosity, love of learning, lots of time, a non-procrastinator.

  2. Interesting post Rebecca! I am not sure I agree on the whole competition aspect. I think it is possible that you can recevie feedback from a friend who is in the same faculty, but the giving and receving of advice is based on personality.  Maybe I am wrong but I do not feel that competitiveness will hinder giving feedback or inhibit me from being able to receive feedback from someone else. I hope that at this level we have gone beyond comparing and competing with others, especially peers. If I read someone's excellent application I may be able to boost my own writing. Peer feedback is useful because we are not doing the same topics as us and if they are, they may be able to suggest things we missed or give us something we may not have thought about!  If you are emotionally attached to your work, there may be an underlying problem there. There is no problem with debating a point, but if you don't want to change a sentence because you like it, the problem is deeper than having a friend read your work.  Just some food for thought!

    • Hi Jen,

      Thanks for your comment. Although I agree, for some people the competition aspect is less of an issue than it is for others. If you are confident enough in what you are doing, then you are often happy to receive peer feedback (and your are right, at this level you should be, but not everyone is), but if you find yourself constantly comparing yourself to your peers, then perhaps seeking the advice of your peers may go to just harm your self-confidence rather than building it.

      Cheers,

      Rebecca

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