The secret to receiving writing feedback

A guide for copywriters, UX writers, and anyone else writing for the web or a product

Photo by fauxels from Pexels

This article is a companion to 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.

There is no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting.

–Poet Robert Graves

Writing is iterative and there’s usually never a perfect ending point—only a deadline. Experienced writers understand the editing process could go on forever and ever until the end of time, because there’s always something you or someone else might want to change.

If you’re a copywriter, UX writer, or anyone else writing for the web or a product, you can use this guide to help navigate the feedback and review process with your design, marketing, and product partners.

How to make the copy review and feedback process as useful and constructive as possible

Present feedback as a conversation

For many writers on design or product teams, part of your role will include teaching people how to best give you feedback. Many people have never worked with a writer, much less worked with one as a partner.

This is important to remember, because as you build relationships with your partners and stakeholders, you build trust on both sides that leads to high-quality conversations about your copy.

In addition, your partners can learn how to give feedback, why it’s important to receive quality feedback, and the benefits of a good review process.

Your reviewers aren’t necessarily going to independently seek out ways to improve their critiques. This isn’t to say you need to present a 2-hour workshop with each of your stakeholders on giving good writing feedback, but it does require you to be open and available for discussions about your copy.

Set expectations

What kind of feedback are you looking for?

Be clear about the type of feedback you’re looking for at the given point in your writing process. Are you in need of developmental or structural edits? Are you looking to refine the tone? Do you need final approval before the copy ships?

Who’s giving feedback?

Make sure everyone’s aligned on who’s giving feedback and what the review cycle looks like. Will the copy have only one final review before it ships? Will there be multiple people giving different types of feedback and several rounds of reviews—and if so, is there someone who can consolidate the feedback for you?

Where, when, and how will the feedback be presented?

The format for receiving feedback can vary per project, so get clear on whether your partners should give comments in a doc, discuss in a Slack channel, or go over the writing in a live review (as in a design crit). Also make sure everyone agrees on the timeline and whether there are hard deadlines for each stage of the review process.

Writing is never done, only due.

–Unknown

Don’t take anything personally

Your reviewers aren’t commenting on your value as a human, even if they’re being unhelpful with their critique. Your value is inherent, so remember that.

If you’ve poured your heart and soul into your writing, it’s extra-important to step back and distance your self-identity from your creative output when it’s ready for review—especially in a collaborative environment or on a large, corporate team.

Stay present with the feedback you receive and listen to what’s being said. Remember, part of your role can include unofficially training other people on how to give you the most effective feedback.

If you’re receiving unhelpful feedback like, “Boring,” or “Too fluffy,” ask questions to help everyone better understand what’s not working.

Know when, how, and why to provide rationale

Defending your copy is one approach, but it’s not the most useful. Defensive mechanisms include making excuses for your writing or overly explaining why you made the choices you did.

Reactionary defenses can lead to unproductive conversations led with emotion rather than logic and are unlikely to give either party the results they’re looking for.

Providing rationale for your decisions is a different approach that usually works best when given upfront, before or during the copy review. Rationale will give your decisions strength and can help boost your influence.

Rationale can include backing up your decisions with your company’s style guide or voice and tone guidelines. It can also include data, numbers, competitive analysis, or previous feedback you’ve received (and why you’ve made certain changes based on that feedback).

Be cautious if all you ever receive is praise

Quality feedback is critical for writers who want to learn, improve, and push their copy to new levels. The soft feelings that occur when you only ever hear, “Looks good to me,” can fade into confusion without clear steps for future improvement.

A vague, light thumbs-up like that can also sometimes be a sign of someone who didn’t read the copy but needed to give feedback by the due date. It can even be slightly scary, because sometimes those same people will read the copy only after it’s shipped and live in the world—and then attempt to critique it.

If your partners or stakeholders only ever give your copy a thumbs-up without questions, conversations, or sometimes-difficult feedback, take some actionable steps. Follow up with them with questions of your own around how you might make things even better, improve future copy, or turn your apparently flawless writing process into a repeatable template.

Keep the conversations flowing

Conversations lead to improved relationships and improved relationships lead to better processes overall. The more you can communicate clearly with your partners and stakeholders, the better the current and future copy review process will be for everyone.

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