As writers, we know that one of the most intimidating parts of the writing process is receiving feedback. When you’re in your writer bubble, tapping away at your keyboard, you are usually in the mindset that this is for your eyes only. Writing can be an extremely personal thing, and to share it with people, especially with the motive of being critiqued, is terrifying. No matter how good feedback has been in the past ,we always seem to be convinced that this is the time that we’re going to be told we’re the worst writers to have ever written. But that isn’t the point of critiques! No one is going to attack you personally, that isn’t feedback. While some of the critique may feel personal, especially if you’re particularly close to the work, it isn’t.
On the other hand, it can be just as hard to be the one giving feedback. It would be easier for us all to smile and say “This is really good!” and move on with our days. But that does nothing to help the work, and nothing to help the author. Without different points of view offering feedback, we would never have the works of literary genius that we do today.
Giving and taking feedback is difficult, especially if you haven’t had a lot of practice. If you’re looking for some guidance, or just a refresher, here is a guide to writing feedback.
Do balance positive feedback and suggestions for improvement.
From experience, you already know how nerve-wracking waiting for feedback is. It’s always better to ease in with a few things you like before diving into suggestions. Whether you want to use the sandwich method, or just make sure you have a good balance of both types of feedback, it’s up to you! If feedback is overwhelmingly negative, it can be very discouraging for the writer and they are more likely to get defensive. On the other end of the extreme, if it is too overwhelmingly positive, they may not think anything needs to be changed and their work isn’t improved at all--then what was the point in receiving feedback in the first place? Having an equal amount of positive feedback and critique is essential to the process for both the writer and the critiquer.
Do ask questions
If you don’t understand something, ask about it! If you aren’t sure if you are interpreting something the way the author meant, ask a question! It is always helpful to the writer to know if something is unclear. For you, it helps you fully understand the piece and the intent behind it. If you have never worked with the person you are critiquing before, and you can, sometimes it helps to get to know them as a writer too. What is their level of experience? What is their goal with their work? Knowing these things will help you provide the best feedback possible, because it will be more personal.
Do consider the context
In order to give the best feedback for someone’s writing, you should understand what the purpose of it is as well as the genre. A poem is going to need different critiques than a research essay, for example. These pieces of writing have different objectives, and therefore you will need to focus more on different aspects. For the poem, you would have a much stronger focus on language and structure, while for the research paper your priority may be clarity and sources.
Do be concise
Try your best to get across your points in the clearest, most concise ways possible. Too much wordy feedback can be intimidating and hard to understand. The best way to do this is to get all of your initial thoughts down, then organize the information. It is important to be specific when giving feedback, but not so detailed that it confuses the writer.
Do remember your motive
As you give feedback, remember that the point is to improve the writer’s work and offer your insight into what they did well. Keeping this in mind should keep you from drifting off on irrelevant points or unintentionally giving unconstructive or unhelpful feedback.
Don’t let your own bias influence your feedback.
Remember that you are critiquing the actual writing, not how you feel about it! If you dislike a certain genre, this can’t influence the way you give your feedback. You have to be neutral about things like style and genre in this process. Try to focus solely on the content of the piece. This will make your feedback more applicable, as the writer will most likely not change entire genres just because you’re not a fan.
Don’t be vague
You have to be specific in your feedback. Saying “I liked it!” is nice, but not super helpful. It is much better for the writer and their work if you provide specific instances that you liked their language, characterization, worldbuilding, etc. The same goes for critique-- saying it felt choppy is fine, but provide examples that made you feel this way. This makes it much easier for the writer to understand what you mean, and fix it if necessary!
Don’t be afraid to be honest
It can be tough to give constructive criticism! As writers, we’re empathetic in giving feedback and know that we ourselves are typically nervous to receive it. It might be your instinct to tell them their work is perfect, but try not to. This won’t help them or their work in the long run. It isn’t your job to tell them they’re the best writer in the world--their mom will take care of that. You are there to help them improve their writing.
Do prepare yourself
Take some time before you listen to or read feedback for your writing to prepare yourself. It can be nerve-wracking, so use some time before to mentally prepare. Remind yourself this is going to help you as a writer. The more you go through this process, the more you will get used to it and even look forward to it. Preparing yourself beforehand will help you be a better listener and writer.
Do be polite
If you are getting this feedback in person, listen! Try not to interrupt or speak until they are done unless they are asking questions. This allows them to get all of their thoughts out before you address their feedback. It makes the process much easier if you are both given times to speak. If you are reading this feedback, try to read the entire thing through without pausing to internally defend yourself or make comments. Give it time to process!
Do ask questions
If something isn’t clear, you can always ask questions! Try to let them finish first, unless they ask you if you understand and you need clarification. Ask for examples, clarification, or whatever else you need to better grasp their feedback. Remember, this is to benefit you! Ask as many questions as you have.
Do summarize the feedback
A great way to comprehend all of the feedback given is to go back and summarize their feedback in your own words. This allows you to repeat the information in a way that will help you remember and better understand it. It also allows the person giving you feedback to clarify if you misunderstood something they said.
Don’t take it personally
It can be hard not to take feedback personally, because often our writing is very personal. But for this process, it is much more beneficial to you to try to separate yourself from your work. If you are too close to it, you might not consider all of the feedback. This is supposed to make your work the best it can be! It isn’t personal if someone doesn’t like something about it, it just means that it’s a work in progress.
Don’t disregard the feedback
Being defensive is a natural reaction, but try to think rationally. It is likely that at least some of the feedback you receive will improve your work. Of course, you can choose to dismiss some feedback if you really do disagree. It is still your writing. However, try to give all the feedback you receive a fair chance before disregarding it.
Don’t avoid feedback in the future
Nine out of ten times, receiving feedback will be a positive and helpful experience. Unfortunately, sometimes it isn’t. Don’t let this discourage you from reaching out again! As writers, we have to get used to rejection and hearing things we don’t always like. Feedback isn’t optional. In most cases, it will improve what you’ve written. That being said, it is helpful to work with someone you trust.
Giving and receiving feedback is difficult, but the more you do it the better you will be. Afterall, what’s the point in writing if no one ever sees it? You want to be able to make your work the best it can be, you owe that to your writing and to yourself. Hopefully, these tips ease your nerves a little bit and can help you approach feedback -- whether giving or receiving--in the future.