3 Ways To Give Honest Feedback To A Writer, Without Crushing Her Soul

Let’s get real for a minute here: I hate when you tell me there’s a flaw in something I wrote.

But not for the reasons you think.

As a writer, there are few things better (and worse) than receiving feedback and critique of your work. It helps you grow, it makes you better… it fills you with blind rage.

Recently, I’ve been in a situation where the team I work with has grown tremendously. Once a shadow in the corner, the content my team produces now has a spotlight shining brightly on it. And so I’ve realized…  the more eyes on the content, the more opinions and feedback you shall receive about your words.

…. “Hey, there’s a typo in today’s blog.”
“One of the backlinks is broken in the PDF you released.”
“I noticed that the tenses are off in a tweet on our feed.”
“I don’t like the position that title takes.”

Or, the worst one of late “I took today’s blog down.” With no further explanation.

… The list goes on. And the theme is prominent: there’s no clear feedback.

Receiving critique of your work takes some tough skin, there’s no doubt about that. But the reality is, no matter how thick your skin, if the feedback is poorly delivered, it will be poorly received.

But if I sat here and ranted about why I don’t think being told “there’s a typo” isn’t helpful feedback, then I’m part of the problem, too. So instead, here are 3 ways to deliver honest feedback to a writer, without crushing her soul.

1. The compliment sandwich is real, ladies.

When someone criticizes you, your first instinct is to shut down. But when someone is offering you feedback, you want to listen. When delivering feedback, don’t lead with the punchline. You risk shutting a person down before you can even get out what you want to say.

For example…

Don’t say: “This piece is ridden with typos and grammatical errors.”

But do say: “I truly enjoyed your latest piece. But let’s go over some of the grammatical errors in it so that it’s presented in the best way possible.”

2. Public praise, private criticism.

This one is pretty simple: if you have something not so nice to say, take it offline. It’s all too easy in our connected world to deliver criticism in public forums - a comment on Facebook, a note on the article itself, a Slack message to you in a public channel. The important thing to remember is that if you want to give feedback to a writer, that’s who you should give it to, the writer.

3. Honesty is NOT always the best policy.

This is ironic, I know, since I am talking about “honest feedback”. But there is a distinct difference in honesty and candor. The latter is a more positively received form of feedback, especially when it comes to writing. Candor, by definition, is being frank. In Radical Candor (a really great book), it is described as a style of leadership in which you care and also challenge. Your objective should never be to destroy me. I wrote these words, I love these words. But maybe they need some work, and I want you to tell me, candidly.

For example…

Don’t say: “This has already been done a thousand times. Why would anyone care to read this story?”

But do say: “The direction you are taking has been done before, but I am intrigued. What are you trying to convey, how is it different than what others have already said?”

At the end of the day, when given the right way, feedback should excite a writer. It should make her want to be better and improve upon the piece. It’s not what you say, but how you say it. And when you consciously think about it, you’re a better editor to us all.