How to Solicit Useful Feedback on Your Writing and Why
“We all need people who will give us feedback.
That’s how we improve.”
~ Bill Gates
One day, not so long ago, there I sat, furiously typing away, writing an article with the deadline fast approaching … Yet, I felt frustrated. Not from the lack of something to say … heck, I was nailing all my points. But because something was missing. And I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.
So I turned to my loyal peer group for advice and BINGO … one of the members hit the nail on the head. It was right in front of me the whole time, but I just couldn’t see it. You’ve heard the saying “you can’t see the forest for the trees” … Well, that was the case. I was too close to it and all it took was a neutral pair of eyes to identify the problem.
Once it was brought to my attention, I easily fixed it and the article went to the client on time.
Without that feedback, I might have still made my deadline, but I wouldn’t have been happy with what I was sending to my client.
Getting feedback is a key step in the writing process. If you’ve ever tried to proofread or edit your own work, you know exactly what I mean. You can only look at it so many times before your eyes start glazing over and you don’t really see it anymore. That’s when it’s important to turn to someone else for input.
But it’s more than just asking someone to check grammar, spelling, and for typos … or at least it should be. If you really want to learn more and improve your writing, enlisting someone’s help to dig deeper is the way to go. And it’s easy to do.
Many writers don’t turn to someone else … but why?
Soliciting feedback is a primary way of improving your skills, but it’s a step many writers avoid.
Perhaps it’s a fear of rejection or negativity. Or maybe it’s a fear of embarrassment if the feedback isn’t good. We’ve all been there at some time in our writing careers. You’re afraid someone won’t like what you’ve written or fear the copy will come back looking like someone bled all over it, reminiscent of a school teacher grading a paper. (‘Oh my goodness, with all of that red ink, I surely FAILED this time!’)
It can be an unnerving experience. But if done right, the benefits you get out of the feedback process will be far greater than the negative. The takeaways can be priceless.
What’s the right way to ask for help?
The timing of your request is important. After all … you’re asking for someone’s time and energy. You’re asking them to take their knowledge of writing and apply it to something you’ve done.
Don’t be a burden to them. Ask them if they have time and wouldn’t mind helping you out. Propose a reciprocal agreement and offer to help them with their next project in return.
Be cognizant of the time it will take to review your work. If it’s a book, perhaps asking for a review of a single chapter at a time works better than expecting the reader to sit down with the whole thing. (That sounds like a job for a professional editor or publisher.)
An article, blog post, or something shorter will take less time, but be sure it’s ready to be reviewed. You don’t want to send a rough draft and expect the reviewer to trip over typos and unfinished thoughts to get to the point.
In some cases, though, it’s better not to wait until you’re completely finished before asking for help. Maybe you’re stuck and can’t get past a particular part. At that time, ask for suggestions on how to move it forward. But be specific in your request, and if the document is still in a rough state, let your reviewer know you’re not expecting them to spend time cleaning up typos or grammar.
What type of help should you ask for?
Asking for help doesn’t have to be difficult, but it can feel a little scary the first few times. I’ll let you in on a little secret, though — most people actually enjoy being asked for small favors like this. Make sure you give your reviewer a clear and specific idea of what you need. Here are some questions you may ask them to keep in mind:
- Does your headline cover the 4 U’s© (Urgency, Uniqueness, Ultra-specific, Useful)?
- Is there a call-to-action, if appropriate?
- Is the writing tight and not rambling?
- Did you make your point to your audience?
- Have you targeted the right audience?
- Did you say what you really meant to say?
- Does the tone match the message?
- Have you chosen the right style for the topic?
- Do you want suggestions on wording things differently?
- Do you have a particular weakness, such as using too many adverbs or adjectives that you want checked?
- Have you used contractions where you can? (A personal issue for me.)
- Do you need verification of some of the theories or facts you’ve presented?
- Does the piece flow properly?
- Does it make sense?
- Is it complete?
- Does it keep the reader’s interest?
These are just samples of things to specify in a feedback request. The more specific the request, the more precise the information you’ll get in return and the easier it will be for your reviewer, too.
If you want to make it even easier on yourself and for the reviewer, put together a checklist they can use. You can customize it to the individual’s area of interest or expertise, if appropriate. Have a generic one on hand that can be tweaked for specific situations.
Who is the best person to ask?
If I want a quick response, many times I’ll hand it to my husband and say, “Will you read this and see if it flows right and makes sense?” He’s my test audience. He does a great job, but I don’t want to wear out my welcome, so I have other sources as well.
If I want feedback on structure and some other mechanics of writing, I go to my peer group or my mastermind group. These are fellow writers who know the intricacies to look for. They provide professional input in a constructive fashion that won’t rub me the wrong way or destroy my confidence.
If you don’t have a group like this, I highly recommend you join one or put one together. Mine has been extremely valuable to me … and I’ve made some great friends who continue to teach me new things.
Other people you can approach include teachers, mentors, or coaches. Even if these folks are not versed in the art of writing, they can certainly provide you with valuable insight.
Family and friends are other potential sources, depending on the type of feedback you seek. Beware of those who are afraid of hurting your feelings, though. You may not get the feedback you want. Instead, they’ll give you a glowing report because they don’t know what else to say. Although those kind words are nice to hear, they’re not much use to you.
Of course, the most useful feedback would be from someone in your product’s target audience, so keep that in mind when choosing which friend, family member, or associate to approach for help.
Once you’ve gotten the feedback, what do you do with it?
Be sure to read through all of the comments. Even if you don’t agree with all of them, take time to consider them. You may not choose to use the advice on this project, but store it away for future use.
If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification.
Try not to take it personally. Take it in the manner in which it was meant … to help strengthen your writing.
Don’t set yourself up for disappointment
Remember, you asked someone to take the time to review your writing. It would be unwise and naive to expect them to come back and say it’s perfect. You wanted an unbiased, honest response, so expect there to be some suggestions for improvement. That’s what you asked for and that’s how you learn.
Be gracious when you accept their input and be grateful they were willing to provide it for you.
You’re still in charge
It’s your choice whether you use the feedback or not. In the end, it’s still your work and you have the final say on what you actually submit to your client. But remember to learn from what you receive. If you don’t think it fits this time, it just might get you out of a slump on the next project.
This article, How to Solicit Useful Feedback on Your Writing and Why, was originally published by Wealthy Web Writer.
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