(This series begins with Critique Group Guidelines*.)
Identify your work. Tell us if it's fiction or nonfiction, to begin with, then whether it's mainstream, science fiction, romance, or whatever. Knowing the genre may be necessary for giving valid critique. Then again, it may not.
Let us know what's happening. When, as with a short story or news article, the piece may be read at one sitting, it may not be necessary or even desirable to give us a synopsis. In the case of longer works, however, a brief synopsis, dealing only with the action and characters directly relevant to the current reading, may be beneficial. Write your synopsis down before you start reading. Fumbling for words wastes your time.
Speak up! Many of us have trouble hearing. If you don't speak up, it makes it seem like you're ashamed of your work.
Don't try to cram War and Peace in every week. Restrict yourself to a comfortable length. For the average reader, about twelve pages of double-spaced, typewritten copy is about fifteen minutes of reading. We hate being left off mid-chapter. So if it's going to make a difference by one or two minutes, don't start that second chapter.
Don't interject side comments. This is distracting, as the listener may not understand whether it's part of the script or not.
If there's something specific you want critique on, as, for example, whether or not a certain character is believable, then tell your listeners about it.
Don't apologize for reading first drafts, rereading something you read the week before, thinking your work doesn't stand up to somebody else's, or anything else. Apologies for such things are a waste of time. If you're truly sorry about reading something, don't read it. If you're reading it, we can only assume that you're not really apologetic. Besides, remember that nobody starts out writing like Jay McInerny, Judith Krantz, or Janet Dailey. Except Jay McInerny, Judith Krantz, or Janet Dailey, of course. We're all learning.
(This series continues with Critiquing Common Writing Errors.)
*Taken from "The guidelines for critique," author/source unknown. I found this handout while sorting through some old notes from writers' conferences. These are excellent guidelines, well worth sharing. If anyone knows where this material came from originally, please tell me so I can give credit where it's due. -- Deborah