Asking for feedback will make you a better writer

Asking for feedback will make you a better writer
March 29, 2016 Beth Nyland

Confidence is attractive.

And for a writer, it’s an advantage.

When you can see the standout qualities in your work—when you have confidence in your strengths—you’re likely to keep writing. More writing means more practice; more practice means more strength; more strength means more impact.

But can you identify the good (and the bad) in your writing? It’s not easy being your own reviewer. Nor is it always a good idea. Having other people read and respond to your drafts is valuable, even for world-class editors. I’ve said it before: “Feedback is a gift—a chance to make a better message, give a better impression, get a better result.”

Inviting feedback is a skill.

Nervous? It can be intimidating to pass your work to someone, knowing it may come back littered with revision marks. But just think of the difference those revisions could make. If your reviewer can reflect on your writing the way your ultimate audience will, wouldn’t you like that input now, rather than after you publish?

If approaching a potential reviewer makes your throat tighten or your palms sweat, you can bolster your confidence by learning how to ask for help.

Follow these steps to get useful input.

Polish first.

First, take time to review and edit the material yourself. You want to feel reasonably proud of your writing as an expression of your purpose or idea.

Choose wisely.

Invite feedback from someone you trust and respect. Select a reviewer who will read carefully and respond thoughtfully. Seek input from people you admire—whether for their writing skills, subject matter expertise, or unique perspective.

Give context.

You’re more likely to get useful input when you and your reviewer both understand the context for your writing—especially your goal and target audience. So, before asking anyone to respond to your draft, be sure you are clear on what you want to accomplish and who you intend to reach. Then explain those details, so your reviewer can respond in light of your real situation.

Set expectations.

Give your reviewer a quick overview of the type of feedback you hope to receive. If you’re open to suggestions about style or grammar and punctuation, say so. But if you’d prefer deeper input about content, organization, imagery, word choice, and tone, ask for it. Be as clear in your request as possible. This makes your reviewer’s job easier, and helps ensure that you receive input you can use.

When I lead business writing workshops through StoryStudio Chicago, we borrow a “workshopping” method from creative writers. The process revolves around two sets of guidelines—one for the person sharing the work, and one for those who offer feedback. What if you borrowed this approach when asking a colleague to review your writing?

The writer has just one simple rule: read your work slowly and clearly, loudly enough for all to hear. Then leave it at that. The key—whether you read aloud or your reviewer reads silently—is resisting the urge to make excuses or disclaimers. “I didn’t have much time.” “This isn’t very good.” Don’t do that. Simply share your work, then wait for input.

Those responding to the writing must listen carefully for two specific things. First, what details do you notice? What words or phrases or images stand out so vividly that you will remember them later in the day or maybe even next week or long into the future? In other words, what “sticks” with you? Second, what questions do you have? Lingering questions can point to gaps in the information. They can also show where the writing has made such a connection that you’re hungry to know more.

Receive openly.

When the feedback comes, be ready to receive it and make the most of it. Listen carefully. Take notes. Ask clarifying questions. Above all, don’t get defensive. Do you have to act on every piece of input? No, of course not. But the more open you are to considering feedback, the more likely you will be to make revisions that help you connect with your ultimate audience.

Give back.

Reviewing someone’s writing takes time and mental energy. Return that generosity. If possible, reciprocate by offering feedback to the very person who gave it to you. If that’s not an option, pay it forward. Practice being the kind of reviewer you hope to have. As you give another writer the benefit of a second set of eyes, you’ll be improving your skills as a writer and editor, too.

Feedback Tips

Photo credit: Ben Rollman via flickr


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