How to Give Feedback to Writers
Good feedback makes good writing — and good writer-client relationships — possible.
The way that communication happens can make or break a partnership. But not all feedback is created equal. Giving feedback in the right way teaches writers more about what a client does or does not want, and it communicates information that will inform future collaborations. Feedback given in the wrong way, however, wears down a partnership and can often make the finished product worse.
We strive for relationships with our clients where edits have a clear purpose, teach us something about our clients, and help us become more efficient and effective writers in the future. In a fast-moving environment, it’s not always easy to give the kind of feedback we need to move forward — but there are things any client can do to work with us in a productive, effective way.
Here are our top tips for giving good feedback to writers and getting great work in return:
Feedback should always be specific enough to teach a writer what to do and what not to do in the future.
Vague edits — like, “This draft just isn’t what I was picturing” — can be a good starting point to opening up a dialogue, but feedback will have to get more specific before edits can be made. After receiving vague feedback, your writer will likely respond with a lot of questions for you, like:
What don’t you like about it?
What exactly were you picturing?
What do I need to change?
How do I make this piece better?
Essentially, vague feedback takes the writer back to the drawing board without an idea of what their client wants or why, and leaves open a sea of other possibilities that could maybe be the one they want. This often leads to a writer creating multiple different versions of a single assignment in search of “the right one” — which can overwhelm and delay the production process.
Clear, specific communication is key when it comes to feedback to eliminate unnecessary steps. Don’t worry…feelings will not be hurt! Be specific about what it is you like or don’t like, so your writer doesn’t need to guess. Taking a couple of extra minutes to reflect and give detailed feedback can cut down on a lot more back-and-forth and result in quicker delivery of a product you like.
Give direction — not just edits.
It’s great to rely on your writers for great writing, but make sure to recognize the expertise you bring to the table. Here are a few ways to communicate that direction well:
First, communicate your expectations before you see a draft. How long should the draft be? What’s the tone of the piece? What’s the deadline? While it’s important to foster a collaborative relationship with your writers, they do need your help with where to start.
Be sure to also give the why behind your edits. As writers, we want to learn and grow with our clients — so we want to hear the purpose behind feedback so we can incorporate it and apply it to future work. As the client/writer relationship evolves, there will ideally be fewer and fewer edits needed over time. Specific feedback with purpose plays a huge part in making that partnership work and grow.
Don’t know where to start? One good trick is to show your writers examples of pieces you do like, and start the conversation that way.
Make sure your edits add something.
As an approver, it’s easy to make changes based on how you would write something. But there’s a difference between editing to make something better, and just making it different. Making that distinction can be difficult — especially when you’re working quickly and under pressure — but remember that every edit you make should have a reason behind it.
A second problem that often causes over-editing is what we call “death by committee” — having too many approvers involved. We suggest picking one or two people that your team trusts to give feedback and approve, and stick with that decision. Too many cooks in the kitchen can slow the process down and turn any piece bland.
Overall, remember that being an approver doesn’t mean you have to add something every time. It just means you’re working with writers to produce something great. The end goal for us is to be able to write for clients without needing edits, because we learn and grow together until we’re fully on the same page.
Trust your writers.
Essentially, it all comes down to this: trust your writers. We’re here to work with you and to help you achieve your goals — and we want to have a good partnership just as much as you do.
Understand that some of our choices are data-driven, and listen to our reasons for what we do. And we’re always happy to take direction and feedback to incorporate into our work and make it better, every time.