How to Give Feedback to Your Content Writers (And Not Make any Enemies)
Editing is fun. No, seriously. When you believe that editor’s job is a tedious and monotonous process of finding grammatical errors and simplifying mile-long sentences, then you’re looking at the wrong side of the coin.
On the brighter side, editors constantly communicate with writers, collectively brainstorm ideas for articles with them, and perform the role of a first independent reader. Surrounded by talented individuals willing to show their unique works to the world, editing is probably one of the most exciting jobs one could think of.
Still, there’s one important thing every editor has to do, for writers to improve their writing skills. And it’s to provide timely feedback on the article’s quality. Read further to find some tips on how to conduct a convincing quality review that would serve as a helping hand, and not as a punishment.
Tip 1: Define the writer’s expertise
Before you start working with a content creator, you need to have a clear understanding of how experienced they are. Your writer can be a freshly graduated student, who used to write scientific articles with vocabulary that only their 76-years-old supervisor will understand, or a vetted mastermind, who knows everything about engaging content but needs some advice on their grammar – whatever the case, only by finding out who you’re writing feedback for, will allow you to make the review more effective and useful.
It would also be helpful if you learn more about the writer’s background (their hobbies, previous work experience, interests, and such) as it helps to make your feedback more personalized and work on the writer’s specific pain points. For example, we had a situation where a writer’s works contained sentence constructions and phrases that are uncommon for the English language. After studying this case, it turned out that the author speaks fluent French, and therefore builds some sentences in a way it’s done in French. This detail helped to dig down to the problem’s roots and enhance the quality of future articles so that two different languages don’t get mixed again.
Tip 2: Start on a positive note
No matter how many changes you recommend to apply, there’s always something cool to be found in every article. So don’t go full beast mode and demolish the writer’s work – instead, start with something you liked in the article. It could be anything: a nice picture, a catchy phrase, or a convincing paragraph.
We have a story where we asked the writer to rewrite almost the entire article and left 190 (!) comments along the text. Drastic, huh? However, there was one positive thing about that draft – its intro was very well written, which was the first thing I noted in my feedback. And here’s the writer’s response:
“That’s a lot of work. At least the intro is fine, thank you” 😂😂
Remember that content makers can spend weeks on writing their piece. So don’t discourage them by saying everything was in vain. And to the writer mentioned in this tip, if you’re reading this, sorry, but it had to be done!
Tip 3: Always be precise
It’s almost impossible to achieve content improvement by giving nonspecific recommendations. Especially in cases when the writer is asked to revise one of the article’s sections. Let’s use one of the articles we’ve reviewed as an example.
The article in review was about food delivery app development. While the narration itself seemed to be convincing, there was one substantial flaw: in the section “App development: Timescale and cost estimations”, nothing has been told about the developer’s hourly rates or development costs at all. So, as you’ve already guessed, there came a need for section revision.
Now, let’s compare two variants on how we could ask the writer to rework one of the article’s sections:
- Revise section “App development: Timescale and cost estimations”
- Revise section “App development: Timescale and cost estimations”, since the section doesn’t provide enough information about costs, in particular. It is recommended to add relevant rates for developing a minimum viable product, as well as highlight the hourly rates of each team member required for this type of project.
When the first variant seems to be very general and doesn’t give a lot of information on what should be changed, the second variant tells exactly what must be reconsidered in a section. The more specific your feedback is, the more productive and less time-consuming the writer’s job will be.
Tip 4: Justify your suggestions
“But why?” if you receive such a response to your feedback, it means you’ve done a poor job explaining. Recommendations should always be supported with facts, and include solid argumentation. Otherwise, your review would look more like a subjective opinion and raise more questions from writers than actions.
To avoid confusion and additional questions, you have to make sure all your recommendations are based on guidelines and resources with a proven reputation. As an example, here are some books we use when checking our writers’ articles:
- The Associated Press Stylebook (55th edition) – an A-Z grammar style and usage guide to issues such as capitalization, abbreviation, punctuation, spelling, numerals, and many other questions.
- “Content design” by Sarah Richards – in collaboration with the Government Digital Service, “Content Design” offers a set of rules for online content, to make it accessible and more reader-friendly.
- “The elements of style” by William Strunk Jr. – a universal manual on the development of composition and writer’s personal style, has numerous editions since 1920.
Also, here are some useful online tools that come in handy during the editing process:
- Ludwig.guru – a powerful linguistic tool that lets you see a certain word or phrase in context, and also provides relevant synonyms/antonyms.
- Google Ngram – based on Google Books database, Google Ngram allows comparing word frequency from 1919 up today to avoid the use of archaisms.
- Grammarly – AI-driven writing assistant that helps to review spelling, punctuation and grammar, with references to English grammar rules.
Tip 5: Be open for discussion
It’s quite natural that after receiving feedback, writers will be interested in discussing some details on how they could improve their work. And this is also a very good sign, as it means that the writer trusts your point of view.
Making additional comments and sharing thoughts on how to achieve a better writing quality could be an endless, but never a boring process. For instance, Fitzgerald, an author of “The Great Gatsby,” had to spend two years revising one of his works because it had been rejected for the improper structure and lack of conclusion. It could sound hard to believe after reading Fitzgerald’s works, but we might have not seen any of them, if not thanks to the writer’s hard work and nonstop communication with his friend and editor, Maxwell Perkins.
While we might not have two years in our pockets, one thing is certain: there shouldn’t be anything left in the air, and continuous discussion between writer and editor will definitely lead to positive results.
Just like there can’t be two identical articles (unless we’re talking about plagiarism), each writer has their own personality, style, and years of experience behind their back. So learning more about content creators, and keeping tabs on their performance is what helps to provide consistent, well-grounded feedback and assessment.
Also, here comes one final tip: always have some patience. Rome was not built in a day, and the writer won’t turn into Oscar Wilde after just one quality assessment. But when the writer wants to learn something new and has a great passion to write, they would always find room for improvement. And the abovementioned tips would definitely help to lead the writer in a proper direction.