Editing with Style: Tips on Giving Actionable Writing Feedback
Updated: Sep 13, 2021
Feedback can be such a delicate process. We are all human, and writers can be sensitive about their work. This is especially true in cases involving manuscript editing where how you provide feedback can be directly related to whether or not your customers return.
The fine art of feedback is being able to provide feedback that is not only useful but also demonstrates a sense of compassion and empathy:
It can help build strong, supportive relationships.
It can clearly demonstrate what is working well, as well as what is not.
It can stir a desire within the writer to continuously improve.
It is important to keep in mind that the writer/editor relationship is strongest when it is built on mutual respect. When feedback is requested, it is a way of saying, “I respect your opinion, and I need your help.”
The following rules apply when giving feedback:
Exchanges should be polite but also direct.
Even the finest writing will require changes.
Communication should be frequent, but not so frequent that it is annoying.
Writer/editor relationships aren’t always a party. Be mutually respectful because the relationship should be mutually beneficial.
Communication Is Critical
No one can argue that the “track changes” feature and the use of “comments” within a document are wonderful technical enhancements when it comes to feedback, but just as often, they are also very prone to misinterpretation. The beauty of such tools is their ease of use in sharing suggestions, asking questions, and tracking revisions.
However, communication outside the document is perhaps even more important than the revisions within the document. How we offer feedback, whether verbally or technically, can have a direct impact on the writer/editor relationship as well as having a less-than-favorable impact on the reader’s experience.
We all have feelings, and we can all be especially sensitive when we receive feedback, so your feedback should be provided carefully and with empathy.
Understand the Writer’s Expectations
Be proactive in trying to understand what the writer expects of your feedback. Engage the writer in a conversation before the feedback process in order to:
Assure the writer that you have their interests in mind.
Clarify that your role is to represent “the reader.”
State clearly that your intentions are not to simply critique the content.
It can also be useful to provide feedback in stages. For example, “First, I’ll review the structure. Then, I’ll suggest revisions to the wording.”
Have a Clear Process
Remember, having a strong writer/editor relationship, and a clear process can eliminate the need to track formatting, style errors, and large structural modifications that have been discussed in prior projects. This eliminates having to send the writer a document that is loaded with edits, comments, and red text.
It should be emphasized that when you include a reason or explanation for your changes, it can contribute tremendously towards building that desired trust and rapport with your clients. Adding the “why” to your feedback can demonstrate that “you have your client’s back” and can be a huge factor in future business.
You don’t want your client to think you are making revisions just for the sake of making revisions.
Use Comments with Kindness
The “comments” feature is useful in multiple ways. For example, you can ask a question, make suggestions, and even use the comments feature to clarify why you think something needs revision. Be direct, but also be considerate.
Compare these examples:
“Too complicated” versus “I’ve suggested a more concise way of explaining this point.”
“Reader won’t understand” versus “Can you explain this point without using technical terms?”
“I thought we agreed to..?” versus “This should be updated to reflect what we agreed to.”
You will see that the more descriptive comments are not only considerate, they also include useful information for the writer and demonstrate a collaborative effort. Most importantly, these comments demonstrate respect for the writer’s expertise. By showing writers how to improve, feedback comments will decrease over time.
The best feedback is not only thorough but should also have the appropriate tone. Go back and review your comments to ensure that you are offering constructive feedback that has the proper tone. You do not want your tone to be a liability in the writer/editor relationship.
Keep the Lines Open
One key benefit of being able to provide feedback is how it affords you the opportunity to keep talking with your writer. This is where the “human touch” applies. Remember to point out to your writer what they have done exceptionally well and use this as an opportunity to remind them of earlier discussions.