WE ALL TAKE ON the role of editor at some point, but often don’t stop to think about our responding styles. Typically, one of two safe and familiar commenting modes will be assumed–critic or friend. The critic offers judgments and corrections while the friend encourages what’s working while glossing over areas of concern.
In reality, those roles are simple and don’t take much effort to fall into. The default roles get the job done, but don’t allow for the complexities of developing a responding style incorporates the best of both roles. It’s crucial to not only offer directive feedback, but to also offer comments that allow the writer to see how the editor experiences the text as a real reader.
The following modes of commentary list was developed by Rick Straub of Florida State University. The approach I’ve developed as a freelance editor is largely informed by theories in the field of rhetoric and composition.
My goal is to offer professional criticism, but from the stance of a teacher and friend whose responding style can lead the writer to expect more of their writing and more of themselves as writers. It’s a delicate balance, but the following list can provide you possibilities for developing a variety of well-balanced responding styles.
Modes of Commentary: Developing Your Responding Style
CORRECTIVE: The editor makes a change in the writing.
DIRECTIVE: The editor directs the writer to make a change in the writing, usually by means of an imperative.
- “Add some details.”
EVALUATIVE: The editor makes a judgment about the writing.
- “Vague description.”
ADVISORY: The editor suggests a change in the text or some other action by the writer.
- “I’d consider adding some details here.”
QUALIFYING EVALUATIVE: The editor makes a judgment about the writing, but makes it clear the comment presents her individual assessment.
- “This description isn’t quite working for me.”
REQUEST: The editor uses a question to make a request, usually in the form of a “Can you” question.
- “Can you give us more detail?”
PROBLEM-POSING: The editor uses a question to 1) confront the writer with a problem in the writing, 2) engage the writer in considering an issue, or 3) offer his understanding of what the writer is saying in order to prompt her to pursue a line of thought.
- “Can’t this be said of spring in any northern city?”
- “What is your purpose in describing your experience?”
- “Because you enjoy the change in seasons?”
HEURISTIC: The editor uses a question to elicit more information or challenge the writer to think further about what he says.
- “Which flower is the first to appear?”
- “What do like most about the change of seasons?”
EXPLANATORY: The editor explains a previous comment, makes some point, or presents a lesson.
- “Those added details will help readers see your point.”
INTERPRETIVE: The editor provides her understanding of the text.
- “So you’re saying that you don’t like hot weather.”
READER-RESPONSE: The editor presents ideas about what the writer says or describes his experiences in reading the text.
- “I wouldn’t want to live in South Florida all year round.”
What do you value when it comes to receiving feedback on your writing? How have you developed your responding style?
New Release Shout-Out: I’m pleased to announce the release of Kyra Gregory’s new historical fiction novel Grieving Liberty. She’s returned to the writing world after some time away. You may recall the author interview I conducted with her a while ago. She’s also re-designed her author website and is currently doing a blog tour to launch her new book.
Sebastian and Serena have lived privileged lives, their every desire tended to, with their status as the children of the country’s ruler. However, the walls that contain them are not solely those of the palace, but of expectations and politics that come with their positions.
The country’s solidifying alliance with Rome upon the return of a childhood acquaintance brings about changes that they never wished to see, causing devastation and despair to touch their lives and loved ones far too closely for them to sit back and do nothing any longer. They become determined to take action, even if it means that their country may not survive. Even if it means that their history would fade into nothingness, at least they would have lived freely.
Image Credit: Out Of Energy by Frits Ahlefeldt
The cover image used in this post is for promotional purposes only and complies with fair use guidelines.
What an interesting list! No idea that someone took the trouble to make one…I’ve bookmarked the post so I can refer to it. It never occurred to me to ask an editor about their style. I guess, for me, I prefer to familiarize myself with the person so I can get an idea if we click as two individuals. All that, after I’ve seen examples of their work or checked their credentials (other works they have edited that I might be familiar with). So in the end, I think I prefer your style…” professional criticism, but from the stance of a teacher and friend whose responding style can lead the writer to expect more of their writing and more of themselves as writers.”
Jacquie, this list is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s my best guess that not every editor would be able to articulate their commenting style, but ones who can are definitely keepers. As part of my graduate studies in rhetoric and comp I had to practice a variety of commenting styles and also do a lengthy analysis of my commenting style as well. It helped me improve on many counts and give feedback tailored to the student, which in turn, now becomes an ability to provide feedback tailored to each editing client I take on.
This is fascinating. I doubt most of the editors I’ve encountered are self aware enough to even consider their self description in these terms.
Candy, sometimes I wonder if this type of stuff has wide appeal, but I wanted to throw a post like this in to touch on how much can and does go into the commenting process.
I, personally, like directive and advisory type comments, though the reader-response style is good too because it lets me know that the person actually read what I wrote.
Glynis, yes interesting too that writers will gravitate toward various types of comments over others, which is why I will aim to provide a variety of comments. Reader-response comments can be helpful in unearthing parts of a draft the writer envisions their passage striking a different emotional chord. A reader’s response can be shaped by so many subjective factors that have little to do with the text.
Quite the comprehensive list Jeri, and a new word for me Heuristic! I love getting feedback from people, (and also enjoy giving it. ) I think I respond to a direct approach, though asking questions can also make me think beyond what’s already been written. I fact when I look at your list, I don’t think there are any that I wouldn’t benefit from. But each individual is different. Receiving criticism is very difficult for some people, especially initially. My tutor at university advised us to use the critique sandwich approach, – say something nice, address something that’s not working, finish with something positive. Obviously that’s for a simple shorter approach, rather than a proper edit of one’s work. Great comprehensive look at the editing process. Thanks Jeri.
A.K., the critique sandwich quote definitely comes into play as well, though I tend to use that approach one a given page, not on individual comments. Nothing can be as disheartening as getting a draft back where the editor/critique partner hasn’t found some positive aspects as well.
You know, I experienced all of these, and more, from the editing team with my publisher. It helped me realize how invaluable an editing “team” is to a writer. Love this post Jeri. Thanks.
Patricia, I can imagine the variety of feedback you received while working with an entire team of editors on your book. This list is a good starting point, but yes, possibilities for comments do go much deeper.
Interesting list. I belong to a writing group and we’ve used all of these techniques with each other at varying points without consciously thinking about the style.
Donna, modes of commenting often become ingrained subconsciously, especially when a writer can learn from other seasoned writers how to give and receive feedback. Too often though, feedback remains superficial. For every great critique partner I’ve found, there’s another who gives very light suggestions.
I recognize these modes of commentary from your recent editing of my book. I feel you found a great balance, and using the different modes you challenged me to think on a number of levels, even dimensions. I think this enhanced my story in quite a holistic way and you have definitely left me feeling encouraged, and that I have learnt from the experience. Thanks Jeri.
Gerry, it was an honor to help your book on its way to becoming even better. The sea of detail and mountain of reflection I explained in one of our emails would make a great topic for a post on how to get writers to dig deeper.
I like the idea of the problem posing style of commenting. I think that is a way to discover how other people may interpret what you have written and may identify instances where it is viewed much differently than the way you meant it.
Ken, there’s huge value in problem-posing questions. It can be really uncomfortable for writers at first (and defensiveness may set in), but ultimately it does pay off.
Such a helpful list,Jeri. I’m in the process of reading a friend’s early draft of a novel and am trying to strike a balance of friend (supportive) and critic (help improve writing issues). I’ve used several of the approaches in the list. At the end of it, I hope my friend finds my feedback helpful and supportive and not too overwhelming.
Jagoda, nice to see you again 🙂 Striking that balance can often be a fine line, but your awareness of it already shows you’re over halfway there. I constantly find myself asking if my comments might overwhelm a writer, so at times, I will pull back and ask myself what types of advice would best help their draft get to where it needs to be.
For me personally, I would want a couple of my non-editor friends to give what I wrote (i.e. the chapter of a book) an emotional edit. Meaning did I get across the message from my heart first. THEN, I would absolutely enjoy and love to have a for real editor such as yourself read it over and offer the constructive advice and teaching me to improve the content. This was another terrific Learning Lesson Posts For Mike reads from you, Jeri. Thank you… 🙂 p.s. This is another one I’m printing out to go with your help sheet.
Mike, it’s great you would get a few friends to read your work first. That always helps, but just know too that a developmental edit from an editor can also help the author identify if the heartfelt aspects of their writing are coming across the intended way as well.
I had hoped that the part of my reply above, “THEN, I would absolutely enjoy and love to have a for real editor such as yourself read it over and offer the constructive advice and teaching me to improve the content…” was what I meant by a developmental edit, Jeri 🙂
This is interesting. I was helping my daughter write a story for her homework tonight and I now realize I was using the heuristic approach. Being able to give, and receive, a good critique is an art form in itself!
Meredith, that’s beyond awesome that you were helping your daughter with her story 🙂
I like the directive – heuristic approaches. The one gets you headed in a different direction and the other makes you think more about what you want to say. Never realized there was so much involved in editing.
Lenie, it’s good that I can unravel a few of the many layers of the editing process. I know some people aren’t interested in all the jargon, lists, and theories, but I think the more we all know the better.
Yet another blog post that went on my bookmarks list, Jeri – great post! Reading this post and from what I know about you and about editing in general, I start to think it’s best (in most cases) to have an editor look at your work twice.
First, to just add comments (supportive or critique, both are welcome) – the purpose of this round is to not alter the copy but just give feedback about it and to encourage the author to further develop their own copy in their own voice as they see fit.
And the second round of edits would have less to do with feedback but more with polishing the copy itself – whether it’s grammar issues, too long or unclear sentences, contradicting paragraphs, repetitive or redundant constructions, and everything else that is needed to turn the draft into a ready-for-publishing material.
Great tips, Jeri – thanks for sharing your wisdom with us. Although I am not an editor, all of these directly help me see flaws in my own writing so thank you!
Diana, I’m glad you’re starting to articulate your understanding of the editing process. That knowledge will help ensure you end up making the best choices for your future books. As for my own use of an editor, I’ll do things much differently when I ever start to work on my second novel. For now, I have to get though that first one. I’m the type of writer who could use a coach early on in the process as I am pretty decent at copy editing and proofreading my own work. My issues tend to come with plotting big-picture elements of a book. Fighting tooth and nail through my first novel has really opened my eyes to the strengths and weaknesses of my own processes as a writer.
Although I was not aware of the list specifically, I was aware of these different kinds of feedback. I don’t mind constructive feedback as long as it comes along with comments as to what I am doing well.
Cheryl, it’s always so much easier to take a harsher comment when it can be balanced by a positive one.
Grieving Liberty looks awesome! (I totally go for pretty covers.)
I’m definitely more of an “educator” when it comes to critiquing. I’ll tell someone something isn’t working, but I always say why and often give suggestions. (Though I’m sure they’re usually 100% wrong, they still illustrate what I’m trying to say.) The best edits I’ve had are ones that point out what isn’t working and why, but then give me readers reactions to things that happen as well. I think we need that feedback.
Crystal, haha I doubt your suggestions are 100% wrong. The more we give feedback to others, the better we get at the process as well as internalizing how to apply that feedback to our own writing as well.
I definitely want constructive criticism, but I also want to hear positives, such as what they like. It helps to know what to focus on in future edits.
I also try to do this when editing. I think it’s important not only to let the person know what’s not working for you as a reader, but also what IS working. When I look over someone’s work, I actually do follow this list even though I didn’t know anything about the list. In addition, I give examples to my suggestions to clarify what I mean instead of leaving a comment like “too vague or awkward.”
Congrats to Kyra Gregory. I love historical fiction, so I’m going to have to add it to my TBR list.
Denise, you tend to give spot-on feedback 🙂 Glad to hear too that you are adding Kyra’s book to your TBR list.
It really fun to see this list. any kind of (constructive) criticism given with the intent of aiding another is a good thing. The key is not what you say but how you say it. As for me, I love all the advise you’ve given me. So, you “say it” very well my friend. 🙂
Susan, I not only love giving you feedback on your stories, but I also love that I’ve been able to learn a lot about how to edit recipes now that we’re tackling those as well.
I appreciate this list very much Jeri. Partly for the obvious reasons but also because these points can be incorporated into the writing process. Anticipating the comments can make the writer add more substantive content. Thank you.
Tim, as always I’m glad you found the list helpful. When it comes to giving and receiving feedback, the best favor any writer can do themselves is to exchange drafts with other people (not necessarily and editor.) Sure, the feedback given to others helps them, but it also makes the one giving the feedback a better writer as well.
So many people don’t realize how many different styles there are and that not all editors are the same.
TB, that is so true. An editors approach and overall level of feedback can vary drastically. I guess that’s why samples are so important.
Had never even thought about different approaches an editor could have. Personally had enough of sub-editors ruining articles a long time ago. The worst was for a piece for Fortune when the sub-editor misunderstood and hence had a negative impact on the article. If she had made a suggestion instead of changing the text it would have been much better.
Catarina, I’m sorry you feel too many editors have ruined your pieces. Perhaps there was a breakdown in the communication process? It’s important to establish how many suggestions vs. copy changes both sides are comfortable with. The great thing about using Track Changes in Word is that any edit can either be accepted or rejected for final approval.
Such an informative list of different approaches used by editors.
Some new word for me like HEURISTIC.
I feel directive approach can go better for me as it can directly guide me to some point or direction.
As I am a women with Mathematics and only believe in direct methods for solutions 🙂 .
Andleeb, I can see why a mathematician such as yourself would be more comfortable with direct methods of commenting, but alas, in writing (especially creative pieces) there cannot often be one solution. Giving helpful feedback is indeed an art form, and one I feel I’ve worked very diligently at.
This is a great list not only for writers but for bloggers. I didn’t realize that there were so many different types commenting. I prefer directive and advisory type comments.
Arleen, it is quite the list, but a cursory one. A great deal of commenting to fit a given writer has a lot to do with reading into their draft to figure out where they’re coming from as a writer and person. It can be obvious at times that one mode of commenting will rub a certain writer the wrong way, but by choosing a different commenting tactic, the information can then be relayed to them in a form they will be more receptive to.
Great list! My responses usually change depending on the work I’m reading. Sometimes I’ll add reader commentary, sometimes it’s suggestive, sometimes it’s just corrective. The more into the story I am, the more reader commentary comes out. So, if you get a (what I think is) witty comment, it’s a good sign that you have me locked in as a reader.
Loni, it’s always fun when a draft can start to effect the one giving feedback that way. I know of an editor who insists he is “genre agnostic” but I’m not quite there yet. I can copy edit all genres, but it can feel like a stretch for me to give developmental feedback on certain genres. In time, I hope to increase my level of comfort with giving feedback on those.
As always, this was useful, Jeri. I had no idea there were responding styles. Are they considered different from critiques? Anyway, I prefer the explanatory and problem-solving modes of responding styles. I’d hope I was getting a number of them, at least a few, applied to my manuscript.
Deidre, critiques and response styles are largely one and the same though most people who will say they have a critique partner probably haven’t delved too deeply into the intricacies of what various styles of giving feedback can accomplish. That’s not to say a critique partner has to be consciously aware of styles. I just like to consider the analyses I’ve done of my commenting style when I taught college composition just adds an additional level of awareness I can offer those who come to me for editing help.
I’m learning that most people only want to hear from “the friend.” They don’t like to hear or accept words from “the critic.” I like to treat others the way I’d want to be treated and I want the best of both worlds. So I provide both, when I’m asked. I think I’d use many of the methods in this list depending on the situation. Do you feel you fall into one or two most often?
Angela, I like to consider myself a friendly critic. There’s a way that criticism can be delivered to ensure the advice will be received as intended. It requires finesse with wording, but also the ability to be able to explain critical responses with examples. When someone seeks an editor and only expects to hear great feedback about their work it then becomes necessary to clarify what the process entails.
I love getting feedback from people about my writing. Advisory is the type of comments or feedback that I prefer.
Jason, it’s great that you value feedback and are open to it.
I can’t believe someone can do so much of research about commenting and responses. Impressive! I love critics(whether personal or professional) equally as the admirers. Both of them make you learn in their own way.
Ajay, the field of rhetoric and comp has given me so much insight to the commenting process when it comes to editing. If I only had writing workshops and an editing internship to go of off, I would be good at what I do, but the time I’ve taken to explore modes of commenting has been well worth it.
Love your list Jeri and it is interesting to know there is such a list for editing of work. We all do editing of something at a point in life and I realize we do more than one type without even knowing it. I have been seeing a lot of advisory and problem posing comments which I value for development as this kind makes you think the next time you write. It expands your horizons.
Welli, exactly. This list can only help both writers and editors expand their horizons when it comes to the ways they can best edit a piece of work.
Wow! Although I don’t often edit, I am often edited, and this list will be invaluable in helping me understand my editors’ needs. It’s so much more productive for the editor to pose a question like the heuristic approach. Frequently, my writing is “edited” by clients who aren’t trained editors, and it’s challenging to understand what they really want. I once had a new client ask me, in a very hesitant voice, if it was possible to request changes to copy!
Krystyna, I feel for you and the tentative editors that you’ve had. It really does take a good deal of time to develop a comprehensive feedback style. Often what a writer leaves off the page is just as telling as what they attempt to put on it.
This is a very interesting article. What a lot of ways a person can help a writer improve. Do you employ a lot of them and do you consider what type resonates with the particular writer? Do you ever ask them ahead of time what kind they would find most helpful?
Beth, the type of comments dictated will first depend on the type of editing being performed. A developmental edit will make far fewer correction and focus on asking questions to help the writer clarify their vision for the draft. A copy edit will focus more on corrections, etc. When it comes to critiquing drafts, I definitely employ the full arsenal and often based my feedback style on getting to know the client a bit beforehand (as much as possible). I will try to reign in reader response comments to a minimum, but even those have their place in helping to demonstrate when a human connection is being made.
Keeping up with your updates really makes me think I should call on you when it comes time to compile what I’ve got for a book.
To answer your questions, I like to see that the person actually read what I presented and doesn’t just comment on the pics. I know that my wife takes awesome pics and that they enhance the post, but I’d like feedback on the words as well. Sometimes they get ignored. I try to answer any calls to action that the writer has presented but after carefully reading the content. It’s so hard to just read things these days. I feel that it’s becoming a great struggle with all this stimulation that we have coming from everywhere else.
I’d prefer someone to be honest with me instead of giving a quick two or three words of encouragement. It makes me think that it’s still possible, after reading this list of excellent tips. Thanks for sharing this guide. It’s really informative, but what else could I ask for from you Jeri? Cheers.
Duke, thanks for thinking of me as a possible editor. It’s always fun when a blogger friend becomes a client because there’s already a certain level of familiarity with each other’s work. I know how you feel about saying sometimes people will just skim a post and not read the content too closely. I’m sure we’ve all been there. Even more interesting is how you state it’s hard to just read things these days. It does appear the visual is now forever linked with text in an ever-changing literacy dance.
***1.“Which flower is the first to appear?”
2.“What do like most about the change of seasons?”***
This reminds me of what Natalie Goldberg says: “Name the flower. Name the color? Name the city!”
The last experience I had, the editor needed more details to balance out the last paragraph. I added them. Then, she told me one of my sentences sounded porno. I’m thinkin’ WOW, that’s a metaphor, dumb ass. I changed it anyhow. It was published, but I still didn’t agree about that sentence. Do you think one kind of sells her soul to be published?
How much do you change for editing, Jeri? I have an unfinished book, but this morning I awakend w/ the TITLE from a dead sleep!
Anyhow, I’m rambling… You rock. xx
awakened, I mean!
Kim, there’s always a bit of soul-selling when it comes to editing. When I was on staff at a literary journal last year it was an eye-opening experience to see how 12 people sitting around a table would edit a sentence in 12 different ways. On top of that, the changes were always submitted to the author for final approval. Some authors will fight to the death over a single commas while others are only too happy to have someone else polish their sentences. Thanks for the rate inquiry too. I’ll send you a list tomorrow (Monday) via email.
I agree completley. I would just be happy to be published & learn…GROW!
I learned A Lot by changing those small parts in that particular essay!!
Kim, all parts of the writing and editing process definitely have so much to teach us no matter how many times we go through that process. There’s always more to discover.
I think my preferences change depending on the piece in question and how much time I have available. Most of the time I want to learn something from the process so that I can avoid making the same silly mistakes over and over again. I imagine it can a thankless job being an editor at times, but when the author and editor relationship is right it must make for lasting friendships, not to mention amazing outcomes. 🙂
Debra, editing isn’t a thankless job! I really mean that 😉 Even when I try to read books for mere entertainment, I find I can never turn that inner-editor off. I always find myself thinking how a plot twist could be tweaked or the language streamlined.
That’s awesome, that’s the attitude everyone should have about their profession. 🙂
Great post about Modes of Commentary, dear Jeri!!!… It seems there are as many editors and Responding Style as readers and writers are.
I also think that a particular responding style should incorporate incorporates the best features both, critics and friends.
As a matter of fact, regarding the modes of commentary the qualifying evaluative looks pretty friendly”… A friend would present his/her individual assessment probably in this way (i.e “This description isn’t quite working for me”).
Problem-posing is more the task of a professional, an editor maybe..
The golden Three (once again shown in your example, through those three questions).
Problem posing aims to deconstruct somehow the book… I am now thinking that answering to those questions could have an unsuspected effect and by that I mean, the writer can’t answer because at the end it was all written and randomly. Thus The writer recognizes he/she has been mixing up childhood memories and unconscious desires within the plot. And… all that… unwittingly!
All the very best to you, Aquileana 🙂
I’ve been aware there’s a difference in styles of editing such as developmental rather than copy editing but I haven’t thought in terms editor styles. It’s been more seeing a sample of the editors work and seeing if we click.
I like your style the best. Also in working with magazines in the past I haven’t found them to be difficult to work with with minimal requests for editing which could be easily done. Sometimes the best laid plans go astray though. Years ago I did a piece for a national womans magazine. I specifically made note of one line that seemed clunky but was correct and I couldn’t think of a better way of wording it. She agreed and off it went to their printing dept where a typesetter made a last minute decision to change the sentence so it read better. Unfortunately actually following the advise as printed would result in being electrocuted. The editor was not amused and copies had to be hurriedly pulled.
That is an interesting classification of styles of response, and one that gives a little more to think about than the comfortable friend/critic dichotomy that you mention at the start.
Graham, exactly. It’s always so user-friendly to create a dichotomy, but in reality everything we do involves so many layers.
Jeri, I’m happy to see you post this here as I did have a number of questions about your own editing style; if it was a one size fits all deal, or if you adjusted to fit the disposition of the writer (going (perhaps) by analysis of their story as to who they themselves, are, together with an assessment of their level of writing skill and adapting accordingly (which have been answered via your response to everyone’s comments). Personally, having been to hell and back through the professional editing process that made me want to give up writing forever, I wouldn’t want anything less than a no bars held approach from an editor to make my work the best, in terms of story, and most polished, in terms of grammar, that it can be. I want tough, honest comments and suggestions, even by way of example, and absolutely no sugar coating. Neither are compliments on what does work, necessary for me to hear; I would assume that if they were left alone in the process. I find when I get over my hissy fits twenty-four hours later (and who knew, that’s who I was?) about areas I might not agree with initially, that it forces the absolute best from me, makes my writing stronger, and ultimately, makes me very happy with the end result. Great post.
SP, it really is hard to explain how I adjust my feedback based on the particular writer I’m working with. This list provides the tip of the iceberg, but really so many factors are at play at once. One of the most helpful things I ever had to do was analyze my commenting style. Granted, it was for a freshmen comp papers, but it made me aware of so many facets of how to coax the best out of a piece of writing. Often what needs to be said hasn’t even made it to the page yet. It takes a lot of practice to be able to negotiate those types of waters 😉 I’m finding more all the time how much I love editing. Now I just need to find the time to finish my own dang book. You? Hissy fits… never!
Hi Jeri, I missed this post before! How dare I hehe 🙂 I find that when I start with positive feedback and then offer a suggestion in the form of a question, such as “Have you ever thought about doing this or that?” then it is better received than all negative. After all, we are often vulnerable about our writing products as we have worked on them diligently; I by no means want to shatter someone with my words. Great post!
Christy, there really is such an art form to providing feedback. The critical must always be balanced with the positive. Phrasing matters so much in how a writer’s vulnerability will be heightened or lowered.
I have my husband edit my posts and give me feedback. It is helpful to get someone else to look at my work because he will see mistakes in my writing that I would not catch on my own. He has helped me to structure my writing. I have to learn the rules before I can break them. Great post and thanks for the topic!
Crystal, that’s fantastic that you’re taking the time to learn how to write properly. It always shows in the best writing when skillful rule breaking is taking place and speaks for a given writer’s distinctive style. Someone who doesn’t know the rules, typically has a style that just comes off as sloppy, though there are writers who intentionally for for sloppy, but it’s hard to pull that kind of style off.