How To Write Constructive Criticism


—Bite-sized advice for better business writing—

November 13, 2019 

How to Write Constructive Criticism

“If we are bold enough to point out problems, we must be brave enough to try to solve them.”

—Robert Alan Silverstein

Business is not always sunshine and lollipops. Some actions and outcomes demand scrutiny, and you might need to correct someone in the wrong. These moments present tricky communication situations. You must choose your words carefully and keep your emotions in check. 

Today’s tips will help you write constructive criticism that maintains relationships and inspires positive growth.  

How can I offer constructive criticism?

Be honest about the seriousness of the situation, but avoid personal attacks. Instead, focus on improved processes and team building.

  • Begin with the positive before you criticize.
  • Focus on the issue of concern, not the reader.
  • Expect improvement and offer a pathway to it.
  • Invite input from the reader. 
  • Maintain a team atmosphere: Use “we” instead of “you” to indicate partnership.

Don't Say

Yet another bid rejection, huh? Don’t you guys have any concept of brand management? You sure don’t change the color scheme and hide the logo! Figure it out or your time here will be limited. 

Do Say

I appreciate the work you put into the mock-up of River Run Sports’ outdoor advertising space. Unfortunately, another company won the bid. Our mock-up was eye-catching, but the color scheme didn’t match River Run's brand identity. In addition, the logo did not stand out as much as it should. Let’s learn from this and feature our next client’s branding in any new design concepts. 

How can I keep my criticism “cool”?

Strong emotion almost never comes across well in writing and usually makes a bad situation worse. If you’re feeling frustrated or angry, give yourself time to cool off before responding in writing.

Once your emotions are in check, gauge your writing voice. Readers may interpret your writing as more negative than you intended. A neutral message might sound annoyed, and an annoyed one might sound angry. This type of reaction is doubly true for readers on the receiving end of criticism.

To improve your writing voice, raise your level of positivity by one notch. If you are neutral, try to sound positive. If you are annoyed, try to sound neutral. If you are still angry, give yourself more time to cool down.

A Note On "Cooling Down"

Given what you’ve just read, you might find it ironic to learn that the act of writing is actually an effective “cooling down” strategy. By writing about a frustrating situation, you gain a sense of agency and control over it. Plus, venting on a blank document is much less risky than venting at someone face-to-face. Just make sure you delete the doc!


Play the Editor!

Copy the terse criticism into a document. Use strategies from this eTip to make the criticism tactful and constructive. Scroll down to see one possible revision.   


These meetings you moderate are a complete time suck. You have no sense of how to control the room. You let others spend half the morning passing along “important” information that could just as easily be shared in an email and the other half discussing items not on the agenda. There’s LITERALLY no good reason to force everyone away from their desks for this stuff. Get back to me when you realize how to run a productive meeting.


Get More Support

Check out the Write for Business Guide and past eTips for more ways to write productive criticism.


Editor's Recommendation

Hi Mark, 

Thanks for taking on the responsibility of leading our weekly department meetings. I, like you, am inspired by meetings that tap into the wisdom of the group and make strategy happen.

Lately, though, our meetings are running long and involving only routine updates and extraneous news. What if we created a group chat for sharing routine information? That might help us have more productive meetings in less time. Additionally, we should focus discussions on agenda items to ensure our time is well spent. Please let me know if I can assist in any way.

Wishing you well,