#EditTip: How To Give Effective Draft Feedback

Jeri Walker
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Jeri Walker
Jeri Walker
Jeri Walker
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How to give effective draft feedback? A number of approaches exist. Regardless, it is often much easier for someone other than the author to find mistakes and judge the effectiveness of a piece of writing. And yet, you may sometimes feel at a loss for how to go about giving someone feedback.

 

All writers can benefit from finding another set of eyes to read and comment on their work. This can seem daunting for many, but like all else, repeated exposure makes the process less painful. If you’re really ready to get serious about seeking constructive feedback, consider joining a writers’ workshop group. Please visit an earlier post on The Value of Critique Groups for an in-depth explanation of how a successful writer’s workshop should be organized.

 

Even if you’re just trying to help out a friend or coworker, these tips will hopefully come in handy.

Picture of yellow chicks

Suggestions on How to Give Effective Draft Feedback:

1. When possible, read aloud. This slows the eye down and makes mistakes more apt to stand out.

2. Read with a writer’s eye. Does the piece make sense?

3. Read with a pencil in hand. Comments in pen can’t be erased! Or utilize the comments feature of your word processing program to give feedback.

4. Indicate errors with standard proofreading marks on printed paper, or but don’t be a gramminator in discussion! Don’t dwell in the safety of pointing out punctuation. Save that for the writer to deal with in the final draft.

5. Pose questions in the margins: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

6. Make reader response comments that show how you relate on a personal level.

7. Include a final written comment on strengths and weaknesses. Especially note if the focus or theme of the piece is clear.

8. What is unique about the author’s personal style? How effective is their word choice?

9. Be honest, not brutal, when making suggestions. What if… Maybe you could.. I’m not sure… I really like how you… It confused me when…

10. Avoid good/bad comments. Generalities are generally not helpful.

 

 

What approaches have you used when giving someone feedback on various kinds of draft?

 

 

Image Credit: Yellow Chicks by Petr Kratochvil

 

Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2013.

Author: Jeri Walker

Need help writing that book blurb, bio, or newsletter? Give your book the attention it deserves. Book your copy edit, manuscript critique, or proofread today. Make every word count.

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42 Comments

  1. This came at a great time for me. I love your suggestions, especially the end comment about strengths and weaknesses. Thanks for sharing!

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    • Denise, giving good feedback is an art form in and of itself. Writers benefit from criticism, but it’s also useful to know that really strikes a reader as well done.

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    • Paulette, I tend to read aloud when I’m home alone. Otherwise, it just never seems to work as well for me 😉

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  2. These are great suggestions! That’s why they pay you the big bucks. LOL 🙂

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    • Cheryl, I wish they were big bucks 😉 The items on this list become second-nature once they are applied over and over and over again.

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  3. I spend quite a bit of time doing this with my kid’s papers. It is a requirement that they have someone read their rough drafts. Learning to show the areas where you question what they have done without fixing it your way can be challenging.

    I never have done the read out loud bit. Many times my internal reading voice is as out loud as I get.

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    • Jon, that’s so fantastic that your kids are required to have someone read their rough drafts. Too often the writing process is taught as a solitary act, when it is anything but.

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  4. As you know, I love how you edit. Now I know how you go about it. I love the tips. These can be used in other kinds of circumstances as well…. LOL. Your help/work really makes a difference for me. I still struggle with some of your suggestions, but I am working on improving my style and writing skills. :-),

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    • Susan, becoming a better writer is always a struggle, but to me that’s always part of the fun. We all have room for improvement in different areas of our writing process. More rare is the person who takes the time to figure out what those areas truly are.

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  5. Great tips Jeri. I use quite a few of them when reviewing a document. Depending on the type of document I’m looking at, I often have to talk about structure too. I don’t mean how the story develops, but more along the lines of best practices for business writing. If its a press release, or invitation to an official, all the important messages are in the first paragraph. If its a briefing note or discussion paper, then it’s context first and then main points and proposed solutions. I always try to explain why I’m making a suggestion.

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    • Debra, it’s so helpful to offer an explanation for why a suggestion is made. When it might be a really tricky writing issue, I also try to offer multiple suggestions. That way the writer retains a certain level of ownership over which suggestion to best implement.

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  6. Great advice Jeri, especially the emphasis on diplomacy. My daughter is an artist, not a writer, but she still complains about my comments. I’m not sure whether that’s because I’m not diplomatic enough or because Mum is always suspect. 😉

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    • Andrea/Meeks/Meeka/AC… not sure which you prefer to go by 😉 Mum is most definitely always suspect. Diplomacy and parental advice are probably two concepts that most of us would never associate with each other.

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  7. Hah… this comes on the heels of a blog post I just wrote to air some such thoughts on this out of my system – or maybe I should say, a minor rant – but reviews and editing based only on ‘listening’ to a story where it is not intended as an audio book. I feel in this digital age where everyone is not only a writer, but an editor and a critic, it’s all too important, if that’s their aspiration, for them to observe just how to be these things effectively and at least apply any help somewhat knowledgeably… and professionally – and by professionally, I mean, politely. Good advice as per usual. 🙂

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    • Stephan, I used to hold writing conferences with my English Comp students at the university, but it always came after reading their drafts. There is simply no way to assess and edit a piece of writing just from listening to it.

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  8. You have perfect timing!
    Two beta readers have my new Candy’s Monsters novella right now. I hope they are as on target as your suggestions.

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    • Candy, good luck with the feedback. I can’t wait to read your new novella when it comes out.

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  9. I always find that reading out loud helps not only with finding errors but with my grammar as well. Please explain “read with a writer’s eye”.

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    • Susan B., that’s for stopping by. When I refer to “reading with a writer’s eye” I mean to read beyond the entertainment aspects of the story and to delve into how literary elements are functioning, i.e. structure, point of view, characterization, and dialogue. To read with a writer’s eye to me means to read with an eye of how to improve elements of craft. Regular readers tend not to go there.

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  10. Jeri – As always a very relative post for what I am working on at the time… In college I tended to be overly critical of my writing (History Major), as I knew others would be as well. What I have been able to appreciate more is the feedback and perception that others provide when reading what I have written.

    Thank you for sharing!

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    • Mark, I’m often surprised at how much I enjoyed my college writing workshops. Early on, I learned to appreciate all forms of criticism, probably because writing is always a three-way street between reader, writer, and text.

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  11. I love “make suggestions”. Often, I read things and find that it’s easiest to suggest than just critique. A critique coupled with a suggestion comes across as much more constructive. Now I just have to identify someone that will do this for me!

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    • Stephanie, your approach to coupling critiques with suggestions sounds well-balanced. When you do find someone who can do that for you, hold onto them for dear life!

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  12. I make alot of mistakes because I am in a hurry. I see it when I respond to a post and think OMG I look like an idiot. I think I should start reading aloud first. Sometimes though you can also read the way you think it should have been written and ignore your mistakes. I forgot all of these Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?. I usually remember, how, where when and what and forget the who. Interesting article.

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    • Another trick that I don’t mention here is to read a piece backward paragraph by paragraph. Breaking the usual forward-flowing movement of reading can help catch more errors than reading from beginning to end.

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  13. Excellent topic Jeri. People are very nervous about their work being critiqued to start with but it’s a nec. skill to both accept & receive for a writer. Your points are all good, and I think a policy of a ‘critique sandwich’ is a good one in general comments at the end. Let the writer know what you liked, then which aspects weren’t working/ could be improved, and finish with another positive aspect of their work.Constructive criticism is essential but no-one likes to be left with the bad news. Being honest can be tough but much better than sugar-coating. We all want to improve.

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    • Kathy, your idea of offering a “critique sandwich” is a great way to put what all feedback needs to accomplish. Every time I go to a workshop here in town, there’s usually this certain person who is always the negative one. She makes great observations, but rarely softens them with some positives. Such tactics made it harder to take the feedback.

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    • Krystle, reading out loud really does work. I’ve also found it’s essential for me to read all of my dialog I write for characters out lout in order to get a sense if it really sounds like people talking on the page or if it’s a bit stilted.

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  14. During my recent English class in college I learned some of these tips for editing. I always look at editing and feedback as a learning experience for me and the person I am helping. Great tips.

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    • Elizabeth, have you had to write reader response letters in your college English class? I used to have my composition do those, and I had to write them in many of the classes I took. At the time, having to do so made me frustrated, but after writing so many feedback letters, the process of giving good feedback became ingrained as second nature.

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    • Lorraine, I always use pencil when I mark-up a draft by hand. It just makes it so much easier to re-phrase feedback when needed, though I do prefer to use Word’s comments feature more now than ever.

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  15. Agree with you that draft feedback is essential. We easily get blind and don’t see what’s wrong with what we have written.

    Personally like to get critisism about texts I have written and am happy to get constructive critisism.

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  16. Excellent post, Jeri – i already bookmarked it. I suppose giving feedback comes naturally to me as i am doing most of the things you describe, without even thinking about it. However, i have always struggled with explaining to someone what i want from them when i give them to -beta read something… They always seem to be vague and afraid to say anything as if not to hurt my feelings or something. Now i have a written guide – thank you, Jeri! 🙂

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    • Diana, I’m glad you found the feedback guide helpful. It really is true that most beta readers have to be taught how to read the text. Otherwise, they tend to back off and not give very constructive comments.

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      • Right, people think i am ungrateful when i am not happy with feedback “i love it” – you love it? what do you love about it? did it raise any questions? did you like how it did or did not raise any questions?

        and i think the other way around is also true – i have come across writers how get upset with me when i tell them i liked this but i didn’t like that and that other thing was confusing to me… almost as if they expected me to say “i loved it” and that’s all.

        I find it peculiar when writers and readers think pure praise with no arguments whatsoever is productive – i think it is actually quite counterproductive.

        Thanks again for the guide, Jeri 😉

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  17. I love the reading out loud tip, we were doing that yesterday while going through a presentation my co-worker and I created. I also love the: “does this make sense” question. I’m adding this as a question to my proofreaders.

    My list of questions for my proofreaders now looks like:

    Name one or two things you LIKE about this draft:
    Name one or two things you DON’T LIKE about this draft:
    Name one or two things that is being OVERLOOKED in this draft:
    Name one or two things that DON’T MAKE SENSE to you:
    How does this draft make you FEEL:
    Are we causing anyone or anything any unnessecary harm (scrutinizing, hateful, discriminating, sexist, offensive, etc.):
    Any spelling/grammer errors or other thoughts you have:

    I’m gonna test it out right now 🙂

    Thanks again for your insights!

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    • Yves, thank you for being generous enough to leave your list of questions that you use with those who proofread your documents.

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  18. As a member of Guppies/Sisters in Crime, I recently had a chance to read/critique a draft novel by a fellow member. I kept trying to ask myself: How would I, as a writer, want to hear this criticism? Whew, in that she told me I did a good job for her.

    It’s hard to critic and be objective, but Jeri, you do a fine job.

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    • Rose Mary, it’s definitely helpful to put commenting in the perspective of how we ourselves would want to hear it. I’m glad to have gone through many writing workshops where I received critical commentary all in the name of making the story better. Too often we can think the feedback is a reflection of who we are, but really in the end, it’s always about the sake of craft.

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