Feedback is an integral part of the creative process, but unfortunately, it can be one of the hardest. Sometimes, you don’t know what to say to help a person improve, and other times, it can be uncomfortable to blow holes in their entire piece of work. I was always taught to give a feedback sandwich (two pieces of praise with the critique buried in the middle) and I’m surprised to read in my two articles that the technique isn’t very effective. Now I’m curious about how to most easily and effectively convey constructive criticism.
The article “Try Feedforward Instead of Feedback” suggests that instead of critiquing an action or presentation that has already passed, we should give feedback that can be applied to the future. I like this idea a lot because it allows us to move beyond mistakes. There’s no use in wallowing about a bad blog post already published when energy is better spent working on new ones. I also like that the article acknowledges that feedback is almost always taken personally; it can’t be avoided. However, by giving specific advice that is focused on the future, it can be more easy to swallow for the recipient.
In “How to Give Feedback Without Sounding Like a Jerk,” the author suggests throwing the feedback sandwich out the window because it is disingenuous and cheap. He also says feedback is best received as a dialogue, not a one-sided litany of screw-ups. I like this format because it gives the recipient a chance to respond to the feedback, whether they agree with it or need to defend or explain their prior actions. My favorite part of this article is the author’s suggested opening to a feedback session: “I’m giving you these comments because I have high expectations and I know you can reach them.” I like this phrasing because it is highly respectful of the recipient. It doesn’t sound like you’ve made up some compliment to give to soften the blow. It’s a very mature way of starting to give feedback. Our band director often uses phrases like these before giving instructions or feedback, so maybe it is no coincidence that I consider him one of the greatest leaders I’ve met.
I enjoy giving feedback with other writers because it’s something I’m good at. I’m adept at catching typical mechanical and usage flaws, and I have a knack for rewording confusing phrases and conveying ideas. I took an introductory creative writing class last year, which was filled with both experienced writers and newcomers. In that class, I learned that it is important to be patient as the feedback giver. It can be frustrating to read a story by someone with less experience, but it’s not constructive to tear the piece to shreds. Instead, you must focus on a few criticisms at a time, and you must deliver them in an understanding, forward-focused way.
Despite the death of the feedback sandwich, I think it’s vital for writing feedback to include some acknowledgement of things done well. The praise should never be disingenuous, and it should be specific. When faced with looming revisions, it’s important to know the things that went right in a draft. Did the characters have chemistry? Was that one joke actually funny? Should I keep that experimental sentence? These are things that writers want to know, so they can salvage the good things before the whole draft goes in the bin.
Some of my favorite things to receive in feedback are questions. They help work out confusing events or guide me down new paths. They point out things I may have forgotten to include, and can help me see what’s going on in the reader’s head. This semester, I want to try to ask a few questions about every story that I give feedback on, and I hope I get some good questions in return!
Image: Red editing pen. Source – Pixabay