As writers, we want to improve our writing. So we want feedback.
There are different ways to garner feedback too.
We can ask family and friends to offer their insights.
We can attend a conference and submit an article for review.
We can hire an editor to critique a certain project with objectivity.
It’s possible, of course, to receive helpful feedback from all of the above. It’s also possible to receive less-than-helpful feedback from all of the above.
At some point, most writers experience the frustration of futile feedback. We wasted our time, perhaps even our money, for something that didn’t help us improve our writing.
So how can writers avoid the frustration of futile feedback?
The best way to avoid less-than-helpful feedback is to be specific about the kind of response we’re looking for. The kind of feedback we receive depends largely on the kind of feedback we request.
Big Picture Feedback
Helpful feedback begins with the big picture. Whenever I’m ready for feedback on something I’ve written, I ask for one of the following:
- What do you interpret my main point to be? (It can be surprising to hear how others interpret our main ideas when we assume they’re obvious.)
- Does the opener work? Is it too long? Too short? Can you think of a better way to begin this piece?
- Does it flow? As you move from the opener to the first main section, is it a natural transition?
- At any point in the middle, do you ever wonder how you got there? In other words, is there a section where you feel like you missed something?
- Once you’re finished reading, are you left with any questions? Is there a place where you think I should elaborate more? Or is there a section you feel doesn’t add anything?
Once these global aspects are settled, it’s time for feedback on the more local aspects.
- Are there any sentences you had to read a second time in order to understand my meaning?
- Which sentences feel awkward or clunky?
- Do you see any misspelled or misused words? (For instance, did I say furry when I meant to say fury?)
- Do you see any punctuation errors or typos?
- Do you see any places where the formatting looks off? Such as too much space between paragraphs? Or no space at all between the subtitle and the following paragraph?
Feedback can be a wonderful way to improve our writing. But in order to receive helpful feedback, we need to be specific about what we’re looking for. And we need to have realistic expectations.
Writing is risky business. It can be difficult to leave our words in someone else’s hands. We allow ourselves to become vulnerable when we invite others to read our work. So it’s important to do so with someone we trust.
When a writer shares her words, there is no greater act of faith and trust. But that’s how we grow and learn.
Who do you ask for feedback?
How has feedback been helpful to you in the past?