Giving Effective Feedback

The other day, we talked about peer review and how a writer can use even the worst types of feedback to improve their work; however, even though just about any kind of feedback can be helpful, that doesn’t mean that writers should neglect the art of giving good feedback.Your peers and fellow writers will always be much happier if you can provide helpful and thoughtful criticism of their work, but more importantly, the skills you develop when learning to give good feedback can be invaluable to reviewing and revising your own work.

How To Give Effective Feedback

Unfortunately, giving good feedback can be difficult, because we tend to sense problems in writing before we can explain them. This is a big reason why a lot of feedback tends to be very vague; writers inexperienced with providing feedback know “I like this part” or “I didn’t like this part”, but have a lot of trouble explaining their feelings.

This can be a major problem because one of the most important things about good feedback is that it needs to be specific. Luckily, there’s an easy technique writers can use to work backwards from these feelings by organizing their reactions into one of three categories: style, engagement, and structure.

Types of Issues to Look for when Giving Effective Feedback

A style problem is a problem with the way the writer uses elements such as grammar, voice, and tone. It relates to the words being chosen and how they are arranged. Style problems tend to be described in relation to sound, so if you find yourself saying or thinking “this sounds awkward” or “this doesn’t sound right”, it is most likely a style problem. Minor style problems are easy to point out, simply mark the awkward section and suggest it be rewritten. In the case the style problem is recurring throughout the work, the best thing to suggest is that the writer read their work aloud.

An engagement problem is a bit trickier, since it can be very subjective and hard to explain, but they’re also the problems that writers tend to be the most curious about. Engagement problems relate to audience reaction to a work and are most often indicated by a reaction like “this is boring”. The key to an engagement problem is to ask why you are bored: is the subject matter something that doesn’t interest you? Does it feel like the work is static or slow-moving? Is the writer spending too much time on certain elements of the work? A helpful way to approach explaining an engagement problem is to identify something that you find interesting and contrast it with what you find boring.

Finally, there are the structural problems. These are problems with how the information of the work is arranged or presented on the page. This is the most common cause of complaints such as “this is confusing” or “I don’t understand this”. A good way to approach a structural problem is to ask yourself if the problem is best fixed by adding information or rearranging information.

Of course, these are hardly the only problems you’ll see when reviewing someone else’s work, but they are the most common ones and being able to explain them in terms of your reaction and the type of problem that is occurring can be invaluable. Aside from that, it’s just a matter of experience.

Hopefully, this look at peer review and feedback has been helpful. Next time, we’ll look at something a bit more academic: writing a thesis proposal. Until then, stay safe and keep writing!

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