Get the feedback you need

You may have read our blog How to give feedback that’s fabulous, not ferocious. But what if things are the other way around? You’ve written something and you want to get feedback. Or maybe you need to get feedback as part of an approval process. How can you ensure the feedback is useful? And how can you make the process easy for yourself and the people you need feedback from?

Here are a few tips on setting yourself up for the feedback you need. They boil down to asking the right people for the right feedback at the right time.

The right people

Image, woman wearing glasses giving the thumbs up sign

Giving feedback is my favourite thing. Image by carloscuellito87 / Pixabay licence

Choose the person best suited to giving the feedback you need. This could be a technical expert, a style guru, or someone who knows all about the way your writing will be published.

Avoid asking a large group of people for in-depth feedback. Sending requests to as few people as possible avoids duplicated work. And you only want feedback from those best qualified to give it. Often one or two people is enough, and they’ll probably approach the task more thoroughly knowing you’re depending on them.

We often describe an organisation’s chief executive as their most expensive proofreader. Do three things before sharing a document with senior staff.

The right feedback

Be specific about what feedback you need. If you want a fact check, ask for that and be clear you’re not after style advice or a proofreading check. You could even write one email that asks different people to do different things, so they can see the different aspects that are covered. For example, when you’re looking at the big picture you might ask one person to check your scope is right, and ask someone else for a ‘subject-matter expert’ fact check.

Tell people about any constraints you’re working with. Do you have to use a technical word? Are you restricted on which facts you can include? Do you have to avoid an obvious explanation because you have to cover some exceptions? Or is your scope limited so you can’t go as far as they would like? Tell your reviewer up front. You’ll save them time writing feedback that’s out of scope, and save yourself time later explaining why you couldn’t do what they wanted.

Explain how you want to receive the feedback. For example, sometimes tracked changes in a document might be handy. At other times you might prefer comments in an email or phone call, so you can work out the changes yourself.

The right time

Image, analogue clock with a second hard

It’s about time. Image by Foto-Rabe / Pixabay licence

Early in your writing process you might want someone else to check that your key messages are clear. Later on you’re more likely to want comments on the details and style. It makes sense to get feedback on different aspects of your document at different times. Again, make sure your reviewer knows what you need.

Tell people when you need the feedback by, and what will happen next. That second part can be useful to show there’s no room for lateness, or to help people understand where you are in the development process. For example, you could explain whether or not they’ll get another chance to comment later.

Learn about giving useful feedback

What if you’re the one who has to give feedback? Escape the Feedback Trap — How to give effective feedback on writing at work gives you the tools to make feedback work.

Do you spend too much time reviewing and making suggestions to improve pieces of writing? Do writers continue to make the same mistakes without taking on your feedback? This online course shows you how to turn feedback from a necessary evil to a powerful part of the writing process. In six concise lessons, you’ll learn how to use feedback to sharpen documents, build relationships, improve the reader experience, and support writers.

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