How to Critique Manuscripts in Languages You Do Not Read

By Miriam Adeney 

Working with writers using languages you don’t read can be tricky. However, even if you cannot read every word of every piece, with a little help you can still provide critique.  Here are a few hints on how to help writers make the most of workshops.

1. For your first public critique, select manuscripts in the language written by the majority of the class. Use these to demonstrate the application of the principles you have taught. Invite suggestions for improvement in organization, research, and biblical and cultural depth and balance. Modeling this process will help minority and majority language writers critique their own work.

2. Ask all writers to provide an outline for their manuscript in the majority language. Their outlines should include ideas, arguments, events and summarized illustrations in the order they appear in the writing.

Simply by studying the outline, the class can formulate questions, such as:

  • Miriam AdeneyIs there any research to support that point?
  • Here’s a suggestion for an illustration.
  • Does the sequence of arguments make sense?
  • Have you considered this cultural value?

You may ask writers to translate paragraphs or the beginning and ending of their work to give a sense of style. Try to minimize your requests so as not to disrupt their creative process.

3. Require writers to find someone who reads his or her language to critique their work. This may be someone from the class, community or home region who can keep in touch via email. Provide a simple critique tool — possibly a series of questions — to help the reader offer feedback on strengths and weaknesses.

Put these tips into practice and you should be able to offer useful advice on ideas, organization, research, audience and some aspects of style to all members of your class, regardless of their language. Plus, writers will complete the workshop with practical tools for future critiques.

Photo above: Miriam Adeney (right) leads an MAI workshop for Middle Eastern writers creating books in Arabic.

Author and educator Miriam Adeney equips and encourages emerging Christian writers around the world. She is a trainer for MAI and a former board member. Miriam has written several books, including her most recent release, Kingdom Without Borders:  The Untold Story of Global Christianity.  

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