Three Steps To Getting Good, Usable Feedback On Writing

You should ignore reader feedback
For me, feedback isn’t an essential piece of the writing puzzle. But you can try to get good feedback if you really want!

Welcome to part two of my short series on reader feedback for writers (not sure if you’re a writer? Look here to find out). Last week I outlined my reasons for not listening to the feedback offered by just any old body. Today we’ll go through the necessary—if not sufficient—steps you’ll need to take in order to solicit the kind of feedback most likely to improve your work.

Ready? Here’s my recipe for getting the sort of reader feedback that really counts.

  1. Don’t seek feedback until you’re good and ready. Wait until you don’t think you can make any more improvements. Then and only then are you ready to consider what others think. All rules of thumb have exceptions, and the exception to this rule is when you want process feedback (more on which later).
  2. Pick the right reader. This isn’t necessarily going to be the most successful writer or the most eminent academic you know (I’ve had some of my most flaccid feedback from this category of person). Choose someone who either embodies the sort of audience you’re writing for, or who has special expertise in giving the type of feedback you require.
  3. Decide on the kind of feedback you’d like, and ask for it. Left to themselves, most readers will proceed to point out your grammar and spelling ‘mistakes’ (I think of this as ‘the war on error’, and I’ll probably blog about it soon) or rip your dialogue and use of language to shreds. Unasked for, this response rarely results in usable feedback but usually leads to a decline in the overall levels of cordiality. Far better to lead the way and ask clearly for what you need.

Not sure what I mean when I say that different kinds of feedback are available? Consider this list:

  • Process feedback to make particular aspects of your writing process more effective.
  • Critical feedback. Best to keep this specific, focusing on one element at a time.
  • Editorial advice. I recommend consulting an acknowledged expert for this.
  • Feedback on a particular aspect of your work, such as how you handle dialogue.
  • Can you be understood? Is your take-home message coming across?
  • What’s the emotional impact of the piece?
  • Content feedback. This is mainly applicable to academic or report writing and addresses the question of whether you’ve included all the relevant information.

The key thing when asking for feedback is that you orientate your reader’s attention in the right direction before they start reading. This is because all reading is purpose-driven, but not all purposes are compatible. If your reader is primed to spot their pet grammar peeves, for example, they’re almost certainly missing out on some of the emotional impact of the piece.

The second consideration is that criticism seems to be the default position of most people (especially, for some baffling reason, the ones closest to you). If you don’t want critical feedback, it’s a good idea to make this clear at the outset.

If your reader says something non-specific like, “I just got really bored after the first paragraph”; it pays to ask them what they think you could do to remedy this. You never know, they just might come up with a great idea.

Now it’s over to you, my readers. What kinds of feedback have you asked for, or might you think about asking for now you’ve read this article? And what kinds of reader have you recruited?

Lynn is the founder and quality-maven-in-chief of Lexis Writing, a collective of expert writers creating high quality content and copy for businesses in the UK and beyond.

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