How to give feedback that’s fabulous, not ferocious

Jayne Dalmer | December 11, 2019

Feedback can be used for good or evil. Giving fabulous feedback can help you:

Image, teddy bear with bandages.

Help, don’t harm, when you give feedback. Image by Pixabay / CC0

When someone has asked for your input, it means they value and respect your opinion. Don’t abuse this trust by using feedback to:

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Lead by example and support your writers to improve. Image by Visit Lakeland / CC BY

Communication outside the document is everything. Without it, you can end up with confusion, a big mess, and damaged relationships. Our consultants have seen useful tools like tracked changes and comments go horribly wrong, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here’s how to help rather than harm

Reviewers use tracked changes and comments because they’re great tools. You can make changes, suggest changes, ask questions, keep a record of changes, and be transparent.

But how we give feedback can affect the reader’s experience, our relationships with writers, our reputation, and the whole culture of an organisation.

We’re human, and can all be sensitive about receiving feedback. Remember how it feels and give your own feedback with care and sensitivity.

Technology makes it easy to make changes — but that doesn’t mean you have to. Avoid confusing or overwhelming people with changes just because you can.

Start off well

Be sure you know what the writer wants you to do. Have a conversation, or at the very least check by email. This will:

Track only what you need to track

If you have a good relationship and a clear process, you don’t need to track things like formatting, common style errors, and large structural changes that you’ve talked about before. You can let the writer know about these types of changes when you return the document. This will avoid the writer receiving a wall of red abstract art from you.

Use comments well

You can use the comments tool in different ways. You can:

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Collaborate on behalf of the reader and everyone wins. Image by Rawpixel / CC0

Comment with kindness

Compare these types of comments and notice the difference between being insensitive and being thoughtful.

‘Too complicated. Simplify.’

‘I’ve suggested a more concise explanation here to make your main point stand out more clearly. See what you think.’

‘Your reader won’t understand this. Explain.’

‘This term may be new for some of your readers, so I’ve given them a brief explanation. Can you please check it captures the correct meaning?’

‘I thought we agreed to change this?’

‘I’ve updated this section based on what we agreed when we talked last week.’

Image, roaring tiger in the snow.

Comments don’t need to be ferocious. Image by Pixabay / CC0

You’ll notice the more thoughtful comments are longer and they include the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’. They also demonstrate collaboration, and respect for the writer’s expertise. If you show writers how to improve, you might not have to make so many comments next time.

Check your tone again after commenting.

Our consultants also say that when they’ve finished commenting, they go back and check all their comments for the right tone. When you’re in the thick of the job, you might be more abrupt. You can go back and check you’re being constructive and kind — and that you’re not going to damage your relationship with the writer.

Keep communicating when sending the document back

Getting back to the writer with your feedback is another opportunity to keep talking. Bring the human touch. Tell people what they’ve done well, remind them of earlier discussions and decisions, and keep the focus on the reader. Let them know why you’ve done what you’ve done, and keep the door open for more collaboration.

They’ll know you took care of their words as if they were your own.

Our training and resources can help you give fabulous feedback

Our online course Escape the Feedback Trap delves more deeply into these ideas.
Our clear writing standard can help everyone write consistently.
style guide can help you produce professional documents with consistent presentation.
Our peer review and editing workshops are packed with expert advice and opportunities to practise.

What are your tips for giving fabulous feedback?

Insights, tips, and professional development opportunities.