There are at least two reasons we need feedback as writers: one is to stay sane, and the other is to improve as a writer. I’ll leave the first objective to someone more qualified to discuss it. But here are seven rules I follow that can help you get valuable feedback on your writing.
- Never seek feedback from anyone to avoid the effort of a careful review of your own work. This includes proofreading. Only ask for feedback on your work when you are confident it is representative of your best work at this point in time.
- Select your sources for feedback carefully, with your context in mind. What is it about your writing that you are feeling insecure about? Is it the content? Or is style the problem? An expert qualified to comment on the content might not be the best person to help you create buzz or check your grammar.
- Feedback is not the same thing as approval-seeking. How you ask for feedback will have a lot to do with what kind you get. If people sense you’re looking for an “attaboy” or “attagirl,” that’s what you’ll get. Make your requests as specific as possible, indicating your greatest concerns with the piece; this focuses your sources and lets them know that this is a professional request, not that you’re having a bad day. Don’t ask, “What do you think of my article?” Instead, say, “I’m concerned about possibly having a weak conclusion to this article, and could use some constructive criticism.”
- If you have no idea what isn’t right about your article, but it doesn’t feel right to you, you may have to begin at the beginning – before you even seek feedback. Who is your intended audience, and what exactly do you want to communicate? It’s that simple (and that difficult!). Then make a list of what you want to say. Put your list in some kind of sensible order and ask yourself, “Did my article say these things?” If your article is muddled, don’t ask someone to do your thinking for you. On the other hand, if the answer is yes, you’ve got the content down; now focus on style — how you said it. How does it make the reader feel?
- If you need warm fuzzies, ask your mom. If you need hard truth, ask your spouse. If you want in-depth, qualified advice, ask professionals whose work you admire, who are secure about their own writing, and who remember what it was like to be in your place. If you have done your homework first, they will know you are not wasting their time and will be glad to help you.
- Don’t abuse the privilege. Don’t be a pest. Ben Franklin said fish and visitors smell in three days. Writers don’t get that much indulgence.
- Show appreciation. Send a thank-you card. Not an email. A card. They made you a better writer — so send them a copy of your published work.
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