Criticism on toast

I just like the term, I want to share it with you and since I thought it up, I want to say it like this: criticism on toast(TM).

You’ve had praise sandwiches, we all have. If you’ve just read the worst script imaginable, and you’re obligated to comment helpfully, you find a few good things to say at the top, a few good ones to leave to the bottom, and you try to make the filling in between helpful but thin. When the script is so bad that you just have to get out fast, you use a praise sandwich.

I’ve been sent many a sandwich. It shouldn’t work: as soon as you read an opening line that goes “Your typing is immaculate”, you know you’re in trouble. Perhaps it’s just me, and how I’m a sucker for being praised for my typing (oh, if you only knew I was serious there), but I read this opening line of death and I am simultaneously aware I’m in for a beating but also mollified.

Once I read a script so bad I had to go take a two-hour bath to think up something good to say about it for the bread in the praise sandwich. And I still failed. In the end, I made up something: I said the opening was just like XXXXXX and then I went on to praise XXXXXX for a paragraph instead.

But the other day I got my first of a brand new type of script report, a type I am going to call criticism on toast. Because it went straight in on this doesn’t work, that doesn’t work, what were you thinking here and this is rubbish. Then it ended with comments about great gags, it praised me on the way out. Without the slightest doubt, this praise at the end was as false as the praise I give at the top and bottom when I don’t like something. But because it came last, I liked it and let myself believe it.

If I were cleverer, I’d have written this entry criticising you at the top and then building to the praise you so thoroughly deserve at the bottom. But I’m not, so I didn’t.


4 thoughts on “Criticism on toast

  1. I lecture and when we have to give feedback to students there are similar approaches.

    There is the big box – “Things you did well” – which is as big as the box – “Things you might try to improve”. Many places, including my institution, use a tick box system.

    One colleague provides students at the start of the year with a list of 20 things that are done badly in answers and essays – and his feedback simply involves writing down the relevant numbers on each returned essay.

    As a student I disliked the false praise you refer to, and as a lecturer I try to avoid it. Better to say constructively – if you work on X you’d do better (usually, the X is structuring the answer or essay) – than to say (as we are obliged to in our tickbox feedback forms “Typed, formatted and presented: Excellent _ Very good _ Good _ Satisfactory _ Unsatisfactory _” – which unless someone has typed with their elbows and let a rat have a chew before submission is always at the upper end, and for a weak student is the one positive mark on the feedback sheet. It doesn’t fool us. It doesn’t fool them, and is a tad patronising.


    PS while I’m here – thanks for the continued blog posting and the continued excellence of the DVD review. I was one of the ABC1 viewers of Sports NIght and was especially pleased to hear your review the other week. Now if only I had a DVD player that played region 1 discs 😉

  2. Scott,

    Did ABC1 play the second season? I only ever seemed to catch the first on it.

    Love the number system. Reminds me of a Lou Grant episode about an obscenity/profanity trial where the show played up the fact that it could never say any of these words on air by having the fictional court apply the same restrictions. So the jury and our regulars got a numbered list. And throughout the episode very serious conversations would end with “shove it up your number 16”.

    A small gag, but so well done.

    I need to say to both you and Piers that one such praise sandwich I did was under family pressure. And I’m afraid the only genuinely useful thing I could’ve said was “stop writing”.

    But otherwise you’ve changed my mind. I think I gave the latest one all the points I wanted to, but I did come away feeling I’d try to con her.

    Whereas Piers and I have our criticism down: we don’t have to read each other’s work to shout “Dialogue!” and some other thing he thinks I get wrong.


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