Giving and Asking For Feedback

My colleague, Paula Tarnopol Whitacre, who owns Full Circle Communications, writes an incredibly useful newsletter for writers. This month’s edition was about giving and asking for feedback that is useful–that will result in a better draft.

Here’s the article from Paula’s newsletter, Ease In Writing.

“A colleague asks you to review a draft. It doesn’t wow you, but you don’t have a lot of time to think about why, so you just say, “Looks good, except I caught a few misspelled words.” You can do better than that, even in the limited time available, can’t you?

Or you have a memo, fact sheet, article, or other piece of writing that you need to make sure you get right. You ask a few people to review it. You get back vague comments like “This doesn’t really work for me.” If you are more specific about what you are asking for, chances are you will get more useful feedback.

Here are a few suggestions to make the exchange more useful for everyone.

To Give Useful Feedback, Ask Yourself:
What should I be looking for? To answer that, you need to ask your colleague what she intends to accomplish with the piece. Who is the audience? How familiar are they with the topic? Is she asking you for feedback about the content or the way her content is expressed–or both?

What do I like about the piece? Start with the parts of the document that you think are strong. Be specific about why you think so.

What questions do I still have? Turn to the weaker parts. But be specific about why you don’t like them, and suggest ways to improve them. For example, you may not understand one of the arguments. Would an example help? If so, what kind of example?

When do I need to respond? If your colleague has asked you to respond by Thursday morning, he does not want your feedback, however insightful, on Friday afternoon.

To Receive Useful Feedback, Ask Your Reviewers:
Can you review this by my deadline? Make sure your colleagues can provide feedback within your time frame. Be realistic and allow them enough time to juggle your request with other work.

Will you focus on the conclusion (or some other part)? Be specific about the parts of the piece that you are most unsure of. Or maybe your reviewers have different areas of expertise, and you can take advantage of their individual strengths.

What do you think is my main point? If your reviewer is not clear about the main point or call to action, you probably need to revise and reorder. Then, ask again.

Finally, don’t get defensive when a reviewer gives you less-than-glowing feedback. The point isn’t just to get a pat on the back. Consider each comment carefully, particularly if several people have the same reaction. ”

–(c) Paula Tarnopol Whitacre 2008. See more of Paula’s articles in the archives of her newsletter.