How to give writing feedback that works for everyone

What’s the worst professional feedback you’ve ever received? Can you still remember how you felt?

Now take that gut-busting feeling, get your emotional calculator out, and multiply that feeling by about a hundred. Maybe even two hundred. That’s how writers feel when they get feedback.

You see, there’s something about writers that makes every ounce of feedback feel extra personal. Because even the best ones leave a little piece of their heart in every draft.

So, when it comes to critiquing a writer’s work, you need to get the balance just right.

Firm but fair. Professional without being personal. Constructive, not brutal.

Do this, and you’ll not only get a better final draft, but happier writers who’ll love working with you.

Here’s how…

1. Get the biggies out of the way first

If the entire approach is wrong, talk about that first. Same if the tone feels off. These are things that will affect the whole piece, and by addressing the major issues first, your writer can immediately start thinking about the big idea for the next draft.

This might sound obvious, but it’s a waste of time running through a load of specific amends, and then adding “by the way, can you make it a bit more lively?”

You should still mark-up smaller issues like stylistic inconsistencies, grammar and typos, but they’re easily sorted once the big stuff has been fixed.

2. Talk about the work, not the person

Writers can be very precious about work that they’ve pored over. So instead of saying “you’ve missed this key point from the intro”, tell them “the intro needs to include this key point”.

It might feel like you’re walking on eggshells, but this subtle difference will make things feel more constructive, and less personal.

3. Be specific

Writers hate generic advice like “I just don’t like it”, or “Can you make it more creative?”  

So before you tell them that you can’t quite put your finger on it, see if you can point out specific words, phrases, or sentences that aren’t working for you, and explain what needs to change.

Maybe the language is wrong. Or it could be the sentence structure needs looking at. Whatever it is, stay focussed on the problems, rather than suggesting potential fixes or rewrites – they’re the experts here.

4. Keep coming back to the brief

Creative ideas might be subjective, but providing you’ve given your writer a solid brief, you should be able to cross reference all the key messages in the brief, with the copy in the finished piece.

Think of it like an email where somebody’s asked you several questions and you answer each one in your reply. Do this when giving feedback, checking off all the points within the brief. If something’s genuinely missing from the writer’s work, they’ll be happy to fix it for you.

5. Ask them questions too

Feedback doesn’t always have to be one-way traffic. Feel free to ask your writer to walk you through their thinking. They might have come at it from an angle that you hadn’t considered.

Even though we dwell on the negatives longer, we all love a little ego boost from time-to-time, so make sure to point out the bits that you like rather than keeping everything doom and gloom.

6. Think how you’d feel

Put yourself in their shoes. Is this the feedback you’d want to receive? If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll know straight away if it’s too harsh, or too woolly.

By following these tips, you’ll be a whizz at keeping feedback professional, pointed and easy, and your writer will find you a breeze to work with. The last thing you want to do is get on their bad side.

Because as the old saying goes: “Don’t mess with writers. They’ll describe you.”