How to give feedback to a writer.

As a writer, writing is the least of my problems (that’s what we develop skills for, right?). What’s more difficult is understanding and incorporating feedback effectively. Because most clients don’t know how to give feedback to writers — many haven’t worked with freelance writers before. So, here’s what they typically do.

  1. Edit/rewrite things themselves and send it back to proof-read. While this might make it easy for the client, it’s unrewarding for the writer.

  2. Point back to the brief. It’s not uncommon for the writer to think they’ve followed the brief to the t, while the customer thinks they’ve not even read it. Two people reading the same document understanding it in two different ways — how can that happen! 🙂

  3. Make suggestions that seem random. Sometimes it would be a very polite request like “can we change this to this?” Sure we can. We can also draw a unicorn in the middle. But why?

  4. Not taking the time to explain feedback.

In my opinion, all of these are ineffective ways to give feedback. While pts 1. and 3 will not cause much trouble for one-off projects, none of the above will help build a long-term relationship between client and writer.

The projects that have worked best for me are when clients give pointed, specific feedback about what to change and why. A few examples:

An investment client of ours said, “we use the word ‘growth’ instead of ‘returns’ because we want people to think of this as a long-term accumulative thing rather than a one-time return”.

An IT client of ours said, “The three USPs you’ve identified are great. Can you also find a way to mention that we do end-to-end services? That’s critical for the client we’re pitching to.”

A product company said, “Focus more on how than why. We’re in a space where customers understand they need a solution. What will make them choose us is how we build that solution — that’s our USP.”

An edtech company once said, “This section doesn’t add value to the rest of the paper, it reads disconnected. Can we spin it to say this instead? Will help flow better.”

Other helpful comments are:

  • A study from Gartner/BCG will help add credibility to the premise.

  • This sentence is not convincing. It needs an example to make it more concrete.

  • In the brief, we’ve mentioned this. It’s not coming through clearly. Can you take this info from there to make this clearer?

  • Can you add a connector sentence between these two paragraphs? I see you’re going for something that’s obvious to us in the business. But we run the risk of the reader not understanding it.

I’m not being language police here. Clients have told me, “makes no sense, reduce jargon”, “sentence too long, break into two” etc. Both of these perfectly good feedback. So, I’m not asking clients/reviewers to be nice in their comments. I’m saying they must explain why.

If you’re a client, use the feedback process as on-the-job training. Make sure that the writer understands you and your needs better each time.

If you’re a writer, train your clients to give you feedback the way you want. Everyone learns differently. To have a good working relationship, the client needs to adjust to your rhythm just like you adjust to theirs.