Feedback is an integral part of the writing process whether this is in producing your PhD or writing for publication. Here, we discuss tips for seeking and giving feedback. Our page on responding to journal article reviewer feedback also has related advice. When it comes to seeking and giving feedback, there are a few things to consider. For example, how can you ask your supervisor for effective feedback? How can you ask colleagues and peers for feedback? If they ask you to review their work, how can you go about it? In these settings, feedback is intended as a part of a thoughtful dialogue about someone’s writing. It should be critical, but constructive. Below we provide tips on requesting feedback and giving it.
Asking for feedback
Asking for feedback can be one of the hardest tasks involved in writing. Passing your work to someone to criticise can leave us feeling nervous and vulnerable. Here are a few tips about engaging positively in the process of soliciting feedback.
- Articulate the kind of feedback you need. Tell the person providing you with feedback what stage of writing you are at, how much and what kind of feedback you would find useful.
- Don’t wait until you think your work is perfect before asking for feedback. If you have already spent hours on polishing your work, you will be less open to useful suggestions. Progressive feedback can also help you overcome difficulties along the way and enhance the quality of the final draft.
- It is easier to ask someone to read your work and offer feedback if you do the same for them – offer to read their work and simultaneously provide feedback. This makes receiving feedback less daunting because it is not one-sided.
Giving feedback can be not only helpful for the work’s author, but also for yourself. Taking the time to reflect on how to address problems can help to develop your own writing, and it can draw your attention to common issues in clarity and structure.
Just as you want to receive helpful feedback on your own work, take some time to consider how you will provide feedback to someone else. It’s a good idea to reflect on how you would respond to the type of feedback you are giving – is it constructive? Is it vague? How can you help your peer to understand and address your concerns? And what positives can you find in their work that they should continue to do?
When you’re reading another person’s work, it is useful to think about the editing system that we discuss here. Using a staged approach to editing can help you to distinguish major from minor issues, and can help you to identify steps that the author could take to improve their writing.
Below are some guidelines from Rowena Murray and Sarah Moore (2009, p. 49) that you can follow when giving feedback, and which might help you make sense of feedback you receive on your own work.
- Give feedback that you think will facilitate improvement.
- As well as identifying aspects of the writing that could be strengthened, point out strengths that already exist. Be honest and specific with both your positive and negative comments.
- Ask the writer to be specific about what kind of feedback they would find most useful and also to specify the stage of development of the writing.
- Differentiate between higher-order and lower-order concerns. Higher-order concerns could include whether the writing addresses key questions, is argued in sound and justified ways or is well organised and clear. Lower-order concerns include such issues as stylistic choices, forms of expression, grammar, punctuation, spelling and layout.
- Always write/give feedback in a way that respects the person whose work you are commenting on, and that recognises how your feedback is likely to make them feel.
Similarly, Barbara Grant (2008, pp. 61-62) suggests that when providing feedback to another writer, the following questions might help you to formulate constructive responses:
- What is your immediate impression after reading this piece? Pick a few key words or images to describe your response.
- What are the immediate strengths you see in the piece? List at least two, and be as specific as possible.
- Is the focus/thesis clear? Are you able to tell the writer succinctly what the focus is?
- How well is the focus/thesis developed? Is supporting information clear, relevant, and presented in an orderly fashion? How well does the writer integrate primary/secondary source material, data analysis, and so forth?
- Where might there be problems?
- Has the writer’s intent been clearly communicated such that non-specialists in the area might understand it?
- Has the writer’s voice come to life for you? Can you describe where their voice is most alive and powerful? Where is it weak? Every writer must find their voice in their words. It is often difficult to create an appropriate tone in academic writing, given the constraints on the form.
- Grant, B. (2008). Academic writing retreats: A facilitator’s guide. Milperra: Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia.
- Murray, R., & Moore, S. (2009). The handbook of academic writing: A fresh approach. Berkshire: McGraw-Hill.