The secret to giving good writing feedback

How to work with writers to make sure your product and web copy is the absolute best it can be

Photo by Headway on Unsplash

This article is a companion to The secret to receiving writing feedback: A guide for copywriters, UX writers, and anyone else writing for the web.

For writers

If you’re a copywriter, UX writer, or anyone else writing for the web or a product, you can use this guide as a jumping-off point for discussions with your design, marketing, and product partners.

For stakeholders and design partners

If you’re a product designer, product manager, PMM, researcher, engineer, marketer, or anyone else in a position to give feedback to a writer, you can use this guide to make sure your input is clear and actionable.

Why does good writing feedback matter?

Writers learn from feedback. The better your feedback, the better the copy will be in return.

Consider good feedback an investment in both the writer and in the project you’re delivering.

High-quality feedback helps make sure:

  • The writers meet the expectations laid out in the brief or project doc
  • The brand voice and tone have been brought to life correctly for the audience and the project
  • Stakeholders and decision-makers receive the best value for their investment in copy
  • The writers have copy they’re excited about, proud of, and would be happy to share

How to give good writing feedback, in 3 steps

1. Prepare

Before reading through the copy:

  • Review the brief or project doc. This is what the writers have written to, so the copy should match the expectations presented here.
  • Remember your writers are strategic partners. Writers aren’t word mills. Writers are professionals who’ve often spent years devoted to finessing language and learning the nuances of voice, tone, audience, reception, and style.
  • Help the writers help you. Writers work best when they have autonomy to focus on the words. You can help determine whether those words meet the goals of the project. Your specific feedback can help the writers produce some of the best copy you’ve ever seen—if they feel trusted to do so.

2. Read

When reading through the copy:

  • Read the copy in its entirety first. Note how it flows as a whole.
  • Read it twice. First, read as the target audience, then read as yourself.
  • Be the audience. Read as though you’re a member of the target audience. Take a moment to step away from the work and return to the copy with a clear head, if it helps you shift gears to read from the audience’s perspective.
  • Pay attention to your reaction. Notice any emotion that comes up. Are you excited, calm, tense, smiling, scowling, bored? That’s the voice and tone affecting you.
  • Take action (or imagine you would). Do you know what the “ask” of the writing is? Are you clear on the action you’d take, and what the benefits are for you once you take that action?
  • Look for accuracy. Give it another pass as yourself, in your role. Is the copy correct? Is there information in the copy that’s technically inaccurate, or legally hand-wavey?
  • Look for problem-solving. Does the copy solve the problem your team has set out to solve with this project?

3. Deliver

When delivering copy feedback:

  • Know where to deliver feedback. Do you post in comments in the doc, in Slack, in a separate doc, in email?
  • Tell the writer what works. Set the stage for the writer to know if anything works well for you, before diving in to talk about everything that doesn’t work for you.
  • Ask questions. Resist the urge to fix the writing yourself. The writer will revise the copy. Your feedback will help make sure the writing meets the goals of the project, so ask questions to help point the writer in the right direction. For example, to gain more clarity, ask, What’s the intention here? To understand a decision, ask, Can you explain your word choice here?
  • Think about the why. When copy doesn’t work for you, consider what the problem might be. Is it a mis-read of the brief, incorrect information, misplaced tone?
  • Be specific. A writer’s job description doesn’t include mind reading. Explain why certain things work or don’t work and offer suggestions—or better yet, ask questions.
  • Be polite and professional. Remember there’s a human on the other end who has labored over this copy. It can be easy to respond with pithy one-liners (“Not good,” or “Boring”) but those responses won’t improve the writing, and they can simply be rude. For example, instead of Boring, you can say, This isn’t relevant or A lot of jargon here.

Remember to share wins and data with your writers

And remember, after the copy has shipped, make sure to include the writers in your thank-you messages, and share any relevant data with the writer as it comes in (like CTRs, sign-ups, or revenue). Writers don’t always have access to data, and anything that can help the writer measure success with numbers is always a win.

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