On Sat, 21 Oct 2000, jesse stephen bangs wrote:

> > Don't feel like your alone czHANg.  I've been on this list since 1993 or 4
> > and I don't think I've ever posted any info on one of my langs that
> > generated more response than "Oh, uh huh, that's nice.  Next topic pleases!"
> >   But I've kept reading anyhow and have found some good stuff here and
> > there.  Every once in a while a post inspires YAC.
> I think this may be mostly because it's difficult to pull together
> coherent comments from a long description of a grammar.  Many people don't
> have time to read involved discussions of phonology or whatever, and even
> if they do, it's tough to get really interesting comments about something
> so expansive.  For really *useful* comments, it's best to ask a very
> specific question such as "What the hell is ergativity?" "Is it bad to
> represent [a] with a heptagraph?" or "Is 12 moods too many."  (The
> answer to that last one is 'yes.'  The earliest forms of Yivríndil had
> about that many moods, and they made no sense at all.  I've since
> repudiated such excess.)  Then present a few examples to show
> exactly what you're concerned about.  When I've done that, I've gotten
> good reactions.

<laugh>  That's a really good point.  When tutoring writing, often I can
figure out what the writer probably needs the most immediate help with
(if they don't have a coherent thesis, frex, that's often a good place to
start!  assuming the piece in question is one that calls for a thesis,
that is), but sometimes I'm at a loss as to where to start.  After a
semester of experience I started asking people as they came in and sat
down what exactly they wanted help with, or were concerned about.  Most
of the time they say things like "check grammatical things" or "I want to
be sure it flows well" (the former often meaning that the writer is
concerned about things other than grammar as well, but the writer either
can't put his/her finger on it or is too shy to say it outright).  But
sometimes they have idiosyncratic concerns I wouldn't've guessed at, such
as, "Does the humor work?"  And that's when I can give answers that are
most helpful to the writer.

Also, less experienced critiquers in writing critique groups often say
flattering but unhelpful things like, "Wow, that's a great story!  I
liked it a lot."  You can sometimes get people to be more helpful by
asking them *what* they liked, or giving them a checklist.  (Most sf/f
critiquers I've dealt with either already have their own checklists or
come up with them, but when you're just starting out, what do you know?)
People sometimes flounder in a writing-critiquing situation when the
questions given them are too general!

Anyway, point of the long aside being, that's a really good strategy for
eliciting comments.  :-)