How to Provide Constructive Feedback About Content

Great content is a vital component to your content marketing strategy.

Unfortunately, strong writing skills are not universal (and even experienced writers have bad days) leading to work that completely misses the mark.

Candid feedback is a very valuable tool in the writing world, providing insight into weak areas and offering constructive criticism intended to enhance a piece.

The process of giving feedback, however, can be a challenge. When handled appropriately, feedback does not insult or belittle a writer, but rather offers tools that can be used to promote good habits and strong skills both at the present and in the future.

Here’s some guidance on providing feedback to your writing team:

Take Time to Read The Content’s Fundamentals

While the topic of an article is very important, there is a lot more that goes into successful writing. If you want the respect and cooperation of your writing team then taking the time to appreciate their craft will go a long way.

Before deciding what feedback to present, give the piece enough time and attention to truly determine where a writer can improve.
When initially reading a piece, it’s important to both read for content as well as beyond content into structure and communication.

Evaluate both the writer’s capacity to adhere to the subject matter as well as the ability to follow basic grammar and structural fundamentals.

In determining where a piece can be improved, it is important to look at all elements. Such as:

  • Is there unnecessary repetition of words or ideas?
  • Is the reading level appropriate for your audience?
  • Are sentences too short or too long?
  • Is the point of view appropriate for the subject?
  • Are there subject-verb agreement errors or other grammar challenges?
  • In general, most of these questions cannot be answered in one read-through of an article. Read it several times.

Remember, the extra time you put into providing clear, concise and thoughtful feedback will be paid back many times over.

Disregard Personal Feelings

Over time, both readers and writers develop personal preferences when it comes to style, tone, and voice. While this can be valuable in helping define an overall approach, it can be detrimental when it comes to feedback.

Too many reviewers are willing to let personal feelings on writing stand in the way, critiquing elements in a piece that are not necessarily wrong.
While it’s important that a writer’s work reflects what was requested, this does not mean nitpicking small elements that have little to do with an article’s overall quality.

When reviewing and preparing feedback, attempt to be objective. Don’t let personal feelings on things like point of view or word choice stand in the way of what is otherwise a good piece.

Most writers use certain perspectives and phrases for a reason, and arguing with things that are objectively appropriate can breed ill will and diminish the value of an article.

Identifying elements that truly don’t work is one thing; letting personal bias override an otherwise effective choice is another.

Start With the Positive

Writers, like anyone with a craft, are often very emotionally connected to their work. This is valuable for the reader, as an invested writer is more likely to provide a well-written article, but it can also create a challenge when it comes to providing feedback.

Providing positive feedback first sets the stage for mutual respect, making it easier to deliver bad news later.

Offering guidance should be constructive rather than demeaning, which is why most writers respond better when positive elements in a piece are highlighted first. Doing this establishes a writer’s credibility, and lets him know that his reviewer respects the time and effort writing can entail.

Even if a piece is dreadful, there is usually something good a reviewer can emphasize. Positive feedback can be applied broadly if necessary, focusing on anything from a good use of sources to a well-written sentence.

Provide Clear Guidance With Examples

When used properly, candid feedback highlights what works in a piece and what needs improvement. There is a difference, however, between telling a writer that his work is bad and letting him know what you would rather see.

Many readers can identify things that don’t work within content, but the reviewing process goes beyond awareness of an issue. When providing a writer with feedback, identify not only what needs to be corrected but what can be done to make these corrections.

If there is a paragraph that does not work with the rest of the piece, tell the writer this, and offer suggestions as to what he can do to improve.

For example, if the first-person perspective a writer chose does not work for an article, let the reader know why, and let him know why second or third person would be a more appropriate choice.

Highlight specific instances of a problem; being vague can result in changes that do not fully address the issues at hand.

Be Honest

Many reviewers, especially those new to providing feedback, are very worried about hurting a writer’s feelings. While it is kind to think of the feelings of others, writers learn early to develop a thick skin. Without constructive feedback, writers cannot improve their skills, making an absence of criticism detrimental to everyone.

Do not be afraid to be honest with a writer, letting him know openly and clearly what is not working in a piece.

By being honest, providing guidance, and remaining objective, you can offer the help a writer needs to transform a lackluster piece into an article that excels.

There is a difference between being honest and being mean, however. Insulting a writer, putting down the time he spent on an article, and demeaning his skills is unnecessary, leading to hurt feelings and a reluctance to give revisions an honest effort.

It’s okay to express disappointment and request extensive changes honestly, but being polite to a writer will go a long way. It’s much easier to stomach harsh criticism on a piece when the reviewer continues to be respectful throughout the process.

Reading and responding to bad writing isn’t easy. It can be hard to tell someone that a product that took a lot of time and effort is inadequate, but a proper approach to providing feedback can make a big difference.

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Christian Vanek
About the Author:

Christian Vanek

Christian is founder and CEO of SurveyGizmo and MarketerGizmo. Prior to founding SurveyGizmo, he spent 13 years as a research consultant. He started as a software developer right out of high school and has always been an entrepreneur at heart.

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