3 Ways to receive productive feedback

Hand reaching out to offer assistanceFeedback is an essential component of most things we do in life, especially our writing processes. However, the wrong type of feedback can be at best not useful, and at worst, harmful to the process.

Here are three things that you can do to improve your chances of receiving productive feedback.

1) Ask for feedback in ways that will be helpful

Getting the answers that you need from the feedback process requires asking the questions that will encourage the most useful response.

For some people, these questions may be simple yes/no or Likert scale format. In other cases, more open-ended responses are necessary. Regardless of how the questions are formed, consider what information you need from the response before asking them. Here are three ways to do that:

  1. Share your plan
    Before writing, you likely had some plan for the results of your efforts. Perhaps the plan was to educate, persuade, promote, or dispute. Whatever the goal, a starting point for helpful feedback would be to know whether that goal was met. To ensure that you receive that feedback, be sure to share your intended outcome with those providing feedback.
  2. Identify specific outcomes
    Identify specific takeaways that the reader should have garnered from your writing. Ask questions to determine whether those concepts were conveyed, and where necessary, received in the desired way by the reader.
  3. Encourage the positive and the negative
    Some reviewers only focus on the positive, not wanting to sound too critical, and in doing so opportunities for improvement can be missed in the feedback process. On the other hand, some reviewers feel compelled to only identify mistakes, oversights, and grammatical errors which can lead to feelings of defeat when the feedback is received. By asking questions about strengths and weaknesses, you can expect to receive both.

2) Ask the right people for feedback (and avoid the wrong ones)

There is no shortage of people with opinions who are ready to share them, but when looking for productive feedback on your writing, here are three things you should consider before asking for help:

  1. The wrong people to ask
    Let’s start with who you want to avoid when seeking a reviewer who will provide honest and helpful feedback on your writing. More often than not, friends and family are on this list. Although they may be accessible – and often “willing to do anything to help” – friends and family likely lack objectivity, understanding of the subject, or review skills.Equally detrimental are the “nay sayers” who are overly critical or always have a better way of doing things. These people will lose sight of the purpose of your work and drain the energy from your pursuit.
  2. The right people to ask
    Ideally the reviewer will be someone from your target audience – your ideal reader. The feedback received from these people will help you identify whether you reached your goals with that audience. However, these people are not always readily available or lack other skills useful to the review process.Short of a target audience member, identify reviewers who have an understanding in the writing discipline. Look for people who can objectively review your work for the elements of importance to you in feedback. Ideally, find someone who has review experience and an understanding of the style guidelines associated with the work.
  3. Divide and conquer
    When finding it difficult to get productive feedback on all necessary aspects (style, accuracy, grammar, scholarship, etc.) from a single source, consider seeking multiple reviewers based on the various feedback areas. Ask specific questions based on the strengths of the reviewer as they pertain to your feedback needs.

3) Be open to the feedback you receive

The key to receiving productive feedback is a willingness to receive it. If you have asked the right questions and chosen the right people to ask, it should be much easier to accept the feedback provided. Remember that you are the author and you do not have to accept every suggestion provided by the reviewers. Evaluate each element of feedback as a potential way to improve the results and to better reach your goal as it relates to your reader.


Eric SchmiederEric Schmieder is the Membership Marketing Manager for TAA. He has taught computer technology concepts to curriculum, continuing education, and corporate training students since 2001. A lifelong learner, teacher, and textbook author, Eric seeks to use technology in ways that improve results in his daily processes and in the lives of those he serves. His latest textbook, Web, Database, and Programming: A foundational approach to data-driven application development using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, MySQL, and PHP, First Edition, is available now through Sentia Publishing.

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