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How to Provide Helpful Feedback to the Writers in Your Life

Young boy sits in chair with laptop in dorm room.

When it comes to writing, offering up meaningful insight to an author can sometimes feel more daunting than anticipated. Those who haven’t had much time to practice their critiquing skills often feel pressured once they’re put on the spot by writer friends or family.

You don’t have to panic the next time your brother asks you to read his manuscript, though.

Tips for Providing Helpful Feedback to Writers

The more specific, the better

When we’re put on the spot, it’s easy to feel pressured to give positive feedback to somebody’s work. This natural response is understandable.

The fact of the matter is that if you’re in the position to be offering feedback on someone’s writing, it’s because they asked you to do so in the first place. Have a little faith in the authors in your life and take their request as a sign of good faith. They trust your judgment, they know you may find issues with the piece, and they value what you have to say.

Don’t be afraid to express your opinion. If you’re not being rude, there’s nothing wrong with being direct when you stumble across poor wording or a plot hole. Offering straightforward constructive criticism makes the job of doubling back and fixing mistakes much easier for writers.

Go elementary

Most children today learn about something called the STAR method for answering questions. STAR is an acronym meant to stand for “Situation, Task, Action, Result.” Using this method is an excellent way to ensure you’re offering quality critiques that will be of use to the writer.

Here’s a quick guide to implementing the STAR method in your feedback:

  • Situation
    • Consider the scenario that’s creating a problem in the writing. (i.e. a slew of new characters who are introduced too quickly, sentences that are too wordy, or a lack of information regarding a certain topic)
    • Express how this situation impacts the reading experience (i.e. something was uninformative or difficult to follow)
  • Task
    • Lay out a goal or task that needs to be completed in order to remedy the problem you mentioned.
    • This could mean better explaining new characters, cutting down sentence length, or offering more information about a topic.
  • Action
    • Suggest actions the writer can take to achieve the task at hand.
    • Perhaps the writer should wait on introducing new characters, try to avoid stuffy language, or insert an additional chapter with information about a certain topic.
  • Result
    • Explain the ideal result of these actions and how they would improve the reading experience (or the piece as a whole).

Go positive first

Many of us are uncomfortable offering feedback that’s perceived as negative. Even once we’ve left our school days behind us, it can be difficult to let go of the position we were once in – palms sweaty and hands shaking as we passed essays over to our teachers in hope that we received a positive response.

In the adult world, there’s no more need to fear receiving feedback on your work – that’s why a writer has come to you requesting critique in the first place. But most people are still hesitant to actually provide that feedback. If you’re anxious about coming across as that pesky professor, think about giving positive feedback first and saving constructive criticism for later.

Getting compliments in before offering advice helps break the ice and ease you into the process of offering feedback. This should help quell any worries about hurting feelings or making your loved one uncomfortable. A little positivity never hurt anybody! There’s no harm in emphasizing what you like before getting into what you don’t.

Two men standing at table looking at a laptop screen.

Avoid nitpicking

Sometimes, we’re asked to read work that just has too many minor issues to touch on. If you’re the sole individual in the critiquing role, it’s likely because your loved one is insecure. There’s no use in piling on the criticism when an author is just beginning to build trust and open up.

On the other hand, if you’re one reviewer of many, you can neglect some mistakes and bank on other readers pointing them out later. It can be tough to read a piece of work that’s, well, a piece of work– stay positive, stay concise, and don’t drone on for ages about the problems you run into. Focus on a handful of problematic aspects that influence the piece and work from there.

Writers seek feedback to leverage as a tool to help them improve their work. It’s important that friends and family who agree to look over this work provide constructive, honest feedback. Striking the balance between honesty and helpful feedback should always be your central focus; it supports writers, but doesn’t discourage them. Consider how you present your opinions and focus on offering actionable advice. You’ll likely wind up being your loved one’s favorite editor.

Join BookBoro and Help More Writers!

Interested in becoming a part of a community of writers and readers dedicated to sharing new viewpoints and helpful advice? Whether you’re a writer, a publisher, or simply a reader who loves providing feedback, the BookBoro community has got a place for you. Join today to learn more about our commitment to creating a platform that benefits readers and writers alike.

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