How to Give Proper Feedback to a Writer

Feedback: Yuck

Have you, as a writer, ever received feedback on a doc that didn’t give you what you need? As an editor or stakeholder, have you ever had to give feedback on a doc, but it didn’t work out as well as you’d hoped?

I think sometimes the problem is that the person giving edits doesn’t really know what the writer needs.

Let’s say someone’s sent along some copy for you to look at. You’d like the writer, Rob, to make some changes.

You send the following email:

The first three paragraphs look great, but let’s change, “Mary and David go around the mulberry bush” to “Mary and David skip around the mulberry bush together”.

Now, this seems like great feedback. It’s concise, precise, and clear.

But Rob sees this and thinks:

“Skip” doesn’t work here because the previous paragraph used “skip” three times and it’s getting old. And we can’t end with “together” because we’ve been asked by Marketing to end with “bush.”

Unfortunately, Rob can’t take your note as a signpost to writing something better, because he has no idea why you’ve chosen “skip,” or chosen to put “together” where you did.

After all, maybe you happen to dislike the word “go.” You don’t really care if the replacement is “skip” “hop” or “roll about with arms akimbo,” but all he knows is that you suggested “skip.”

So he either:

1. Works hard to make the change as requested, lets Marketing know, and rewrites the previous paragraph to get rid of a “skip” or two. Unnecessary work.

2. Makes the change as requested, doesn’t let Marketing know, and doesn’t change the previous paragraph. Marketing is annoyed and quality is lowered.

3. Emails you to explain the problem. Then you have to explain where you’re coming from. Extra work on the writer’s part and on the requester’s part.

4. Some unholy combination of the above.

Here’s a better way to write that original feedback email. It doesn’t have to be eloquent, but it should be clear.

I’d like to avoid using the word “go” in this blurb because the product name is “Go Ahead.” Maybe use “skip”? Also, let’s show that Mary and David are doing this together. I want to make it clear that there’s one bush and they’re both moving around it.

This way, you’ve made a suggestion, but made it clear that it’s just a suggestion. And you’ve explained what you want, while letting the writer choose the actual words. Which, after all, is what you pay him for.

Does this sound like the right way to go about sending feedback? If you’re a writer or requester, does this make sense to you?

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