Critique Assignment: Praise for Burnette’s love of all things Tartan

In “A third-generation fan pays homage to the cook and author Beth Tartan,” Ellen Burnette writes of the homes, kitchens and heritage that have shaped her with the warmth of one of Tartan’s pound cakes, straight out of the oven. 

Burnette’s fondness for her hometown and family shines through as she uses Beth Tartan (the Winston-Salem Journal’s four decades-tenured food editor), and her famous recipes as a thread to connect generations of tradition and memories. 

A favorite line from the article paints a vivid picture of Burnette standing alongside her mother, learning a recipe that stays with her to this day: 

“I can vividly remember standing on a chair in the kitchen, a tiny apron wrapped around me and measuring things for the mixer with my mother’s tutelage.”

Readers will delight in the personal photos Burnette shares of her childhood featuring Tartan greats like “1,2,3,4 Cake” with buttercream frosting. Readers can also try their hand at some of the favorite recipes Burnette thoughtfully includes at the end of the article, bringing the story to life in their own kitchens. 

Feedback for future revisions
Burnette may consider shortening the length of her article while also narrowing the scope to some of the most significant (2-3?) Tartan recipes and coinciding memories she has. By exploring a smaller amount of recipes and memories, Burnette can bring readers more deeply into the scene. 

She might explore the textures, sounds and smells of the ingredients more deeply and the conversations being had in the kitchen. Burnette could also explore the emotions she was feeling at the time — such as when she made the traditional Moravian spiced cookies for her new groom — and the enjoyment of the final product.

Another consideration Burnette may think about in a future revision is the addition of subheadings to break her article into sections. These short lead-in headings could introduce a new memory and help to place the reader in a different chapter of her life (since these recipes have been made over generations). These subheadings also allow the digital reader to more easily engage with the content and take some white space “breaths” along the way.

Overall, Burnette can shorten paragraphs and air the piece out as she narrows her focus into 2-3 prominent recipes / memories. Along the way, she can likely eliminate instances of repetitive words (such as “Moravian”) and any extraneous details that take away from the reader being in the scene. 

Format considerations
A shorter, punchier headline will help Burnette’s piece to stand out on the homepage of her intended publication, “The Local Palate.” As mentioned by Brian Carroll in “Writing for Digital Media,” headlines still reign supreme on a homepage (over photos). A strong headline can make a difference when a digital reader is scanning and deciding where to click first.  A recent headline on “The Local Palate” is a good example that combines punch and intrigue:

Feed your soul. Build our community. Experience euphoria.

Upon publishing, Burnette can also consider the addition of hyperlinks throughout her piece to aid digital readers who might want to learn more about Tartan, Winston-Salem or Moravian history. This would also help to slim out some of the extra details written in the piece, leveraging hyperlinks to provide that detail instead. 

Final thoughts
As Burnette embarks on the revision process, a final exercise to consider is an assessment of the key message and heart of the story. 


  • What is the biggest gift Tartan gave Burnette and her family? How can she express that to the reader succinctly at the very front of the story (using the reverse pyramid strategy) and then reinforce it again at the end? Are there universal values, lessons or connection points Burnette can make with the reader as she focuses on some of her favorite memories? 




Thank you, Ellen, for bringing us into your childhood, the world of Moravian cuisine and the beloved work of Beth Tartan!

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