Much like writing, giving feedback is a skill. However, most people think, because they were taught to string a sentence together at school, and they can talk to people, they can give feedback.
Sadly, this isn’t the case. Most people struggle to articulate what they want or need when giving feedback, which can lead to frustrations all around.
It can mean the person giving the feedback feels like the receiver isn’t listening, or doesn’t understand. The person on the receiving end, meanwhile, will get annoyed at the lack of clarity or the focus on minutiae when the structure hasn’t been agreed upon yet.
So let’s see what some common mistakes are when it comes to giving feedback, and more importantly, what the fixes are.
Have no idea what you actually want
This is one of the most common mistakes I see. Business owners knowing they should publish content, but not knowing what they actually want from it, both in terms of individual pieces and long-term goals. They just want a blog because everyone tells them they need one. They don’t know what its actual purpose is.
Content shouldn’t be created in a silo: each piece should serve a purpose, working towards a greater business goal.
Trust me: I’ve made the mistake of blogging for the sake of blogging. And it’s great for building your skills.
But it means you attract freebie seekers who don’t want to give you money.
And you can’t pay the bills with freebie seekers.
When you publish content that also doesn’t tie into your wider business goals, it just kind of…floats there, doing nothing. It doesn’t guide people down the Yellow Brick Road to you, in Oz, where you can solve their problems. They just stay wherever they are on the Yellow Brick Road, totally lost and confused.
That’s why funnels are so important – they guide your audience down that Yellow Brick Road, answering all their questions along the way, and putting them in a positive position to purchase from you.
Say you don’t like something…but not explain why
It’s all very well and good to say you don’t like something for yourself. For instance, if you don’t like how your hair looks with your outfit, but you can’t pinpoint why.
However, when it comes to giving feedback, this vagueness isn’t helpful – for you or for us.
Content writers aren’t mind readers. We can’t fix something if we don’t know what’s wrong with it. Or why you think it’s wrong.
If you dislike something, it’s imperative you explain why so that we can fix it in a way that works for you. Not doing this can lead to more edits and more expense. The whole process takes longer and leads to more hair-pulling for everyone involved.
If you have, or plan to build, a long-term relationship with a content writer, clear guidelines will also mean they can keep your comments in mind for future pieces they write for you.
Don’t label or annotate anything
When giving feedback, it’s really hard to know what goes where without labels.
This is why the annotation feature in Word and Google Docs is so powerful – you can see what comment applies to which section at a glance. It’s particularly useful for people like me, who don’t always write or edit in chronological order; I flit back and forth as I go.
When comments are just lumped together in one chunk of text – or worse, not even in chronological order! – it adds to our workload. Which may also add to the cost for you, as it means that the content creation process takes longer.
Share individual feedback from different team members at different times
Most content writers, once they get feedback, will start to think about the changes that need to be made even if they aren’t going to make those edits just yet. Mulling things over in this way makes the editing process much faster because they already know how to fix things to fit your requirements.
But when different team members expect different things, it makes our job really hard.
It’s not part of a content writer’s job to be piggy in the middle, mediator, or negotiator. That’s why some of us left our day jobs.
Before sending any feedback, run the piece past everyone that gets a say in it. If there’s a conflict of opinions, this should be fixed internally, before anything is sent back to the writer.
Doing it this way means the writer knows exactly what’s expected of them, and they’re not trying to work out why one person loves something and another hates it.
Say something is crap
There’s nothing worse than getting feedback that’s basically ‘this is crap’ or ‘I don’t like this’. This is harsher than saying you don’t like something and not explaining why, because people who tend to do this are unnecessarily blunt.
Sure, you’re paying someone to write for you, but does that mean you have to be mean about it?
I’m not saying you have to do a compliment sandwich (I really hate those), but you should at least be mindful of the way you use language when critiquing someone’s hard work.
If in doubt, consider how you’d feel if you were on the receiving end of said feedback. Don’t like how something is phrased? Feel it’s annoyingly vague? Change it before sending it.
Only mention the negatives
Have you ever noticed, when someone gives feedback, they almost solely focus on the negatives?
Even those of us who are trained in editing focus on the negatives; it’s how we’re taught. The focus is on what to fix.
But, if you don’t tell someone what you love, they won’t know what works, or what to lean into. Giving them this extra feedback is really important because it shows them they’re on the right path, you like what they do, and you have a future working together.
When feedback only focuses on the negatives, it can hurt the confidence of even the most experienced writers. I’m not saying compliment sandwich it (did I mention I hate them?) but try to balance the positives and negatives where you can.
How to give feedback to a content writer
Feedback should always be specific. Why don’t you like something? What sort of angle would you like instead?
Always put yourself in the other person’s position – if someone sent you these notes, how would you feel?
Would you know what to do, or would you need more information?
It’s entirely possible to give feedback quickly and still have it make sense and be explained in-depth. Lack of time isn’t an excuse for poor feedback.
Know what you want
The more specific you are about what you want, the greater your success both with content marketing and with a freelance writer will be.
It helps to give guidelines, both for your brand and the content itself.
That way, everyone involved agrees before you begin. It can help to have a call here, or at the very least share your brand guidelines. It’s a little more work upfront, but it’s a worthwhile investment for the difference it will make to your processes going forwards.
Use simple language (to keep things clear)
I’ve had notes from editors before that are verbose and use unnecessarily big words. I have a vendetta against all big words (aside from my favourite word, tchotchke), because they make it harder for the reader to process what’s in front of them.
The easier it is for someone to process your notes, the more likely they’ll be to do things how you need them.
Writing in plain English is a skill in itself, and it’s one that shouldn’t be underestimated.
You’d be surprised at how many more friends you’ll make when you write in clear, simple language and don’t try to sound like you’re writing Blur lyrics.
Notes that link to individual sentences (or at the very least, have page/paragraph numbers next to them) are much easier to follow and digest.
The writer can then see them alongside the relevant word/sentence/paragraph, helping with context and meaning they don’t need to flit between several applications to contextualise the feedback.
Because it makes the process easier, it also makes things faster, meaning you get your completed piece back sooner.
Focus on the positives and negatives
As I mentioned above, we always focus on the negative when giving feedback, but there’s a lot to be said for mentioning the positive, too!
Mentioning what you like about a piece not only gives us that warm, fuzzy feeling we get from receiving a compliment, but it also shows us we’re going in the right direction.
And it stops sections you do like from becoming a casualty of the editing process. This can sometimes happen if you don’t mention what you like, as sections get rewritten based on your feedback. Sometimes, sections around it get edited, too, to help with flow.
Wording you like, or points you liked, may get cut if they no longer fit the new angle and you haven’t highlighted it.
My book editor, LIAS, comments on what she likes and what needs improving on my manuscript, and it always makes me smile to see her reaction to different scenes. It helps me to know I’m generating the right emotional reaction in my reader, something which is pivotal to all forms of writing. It also means I look forward to her edits, instead of dreading them.
Ask questions if you’re not sure about something
If you’re really not sure on something, or you think there’s been a miscommunication, don’t sit there ruminating about it. Ask!
The sooner you ask and get things cleared up, the sooner you’ll get your shiny new content in your hands.
The longer you delay it, the more challenging it will be to work with freelancers and the more uncomfortable you’ll be talking to your content writer.
The way you give feedback can make or break your relationship with a content writer. It can help you surpass your business goals, or lead to communication issues, convoluted processes, and lost business.
That’s why being specific and clear throughout the process is so important. If you know what you want, it’s a lot easier for content writers to help you.
We’re not mind readers. Sure, some of us might be able to figure out what you want from your vague language after hours of dissecting it, but most of us are mere mortals. We can’t serve you unless you pick what you need from the menu first. Once you’ve chosen that, we can better tailor content to your tastes.
So why not set yourself up for success from the start by following these tips?