Who gives feedback?

When it comes to writing and publishing materials, the main person who gives you feedback is your editor. However, on large projects, other people will also give feedback on your writing. These might include the ‘publisher’ or person in charge of the whole project, your co-author(s), and teachers who are invited to read and comment. If you are writing materials for your own use and to be used in your language school, then it’s usually worth getting feedback from others such as fellow teachers or you could even ask your students for informal feedback at the end of a lesson; e.g. ask if they found the reading text interesting or if they thought an exercise was too hard.

What do you give feedback on?

Sometimes people think feedback is mainly concerned with typos, spelling errors or incorrect or inconsistent use of headings. However, at the early stages of materials writing – at first draft – the writer needs feedback on the broader issues such as is the text interesting, will the material appeal to the target learners, do the exercises flow, is the choice of image appropriate and so on. At the next draft, assuming the writer has addressed the earlier points, feedback can start to focus on more of the detail as the materials take shape.

How to give feedback?

This is the biggest question of all. How you give or phrase feedback can make all the difference to a project. It’s all about getting the balance right between offering words of encouragement for those things that are working well and then giving feedback to change the aspects of the materials that are not right.

First, the good news….

Note that people giving feedback generally find it easier to comment immediately on the things which are not working so well and need changing. However, it’s beneficial to approach the material with the first question of ‘What is working well?’ Even the most experienced writer needs the knowledge and reassurance that something is working well. A few well-placed phrases like “This is working well.”, “I like this exercise and so will the students.” or “Great choice of text.” can brighten a writer’s day and make them more open to reading comments which are less positive.

Points to work on

When it comes to saying what the writer needs to work on, there are different categories. Firstly, there are things that are just wrong. Maybe, a text is at the wrong level or the writer has misunderstood the brief and so the format is wrong. Then there are things that could be improved. Possibly one exercise doesn’t follow naturally to the next or maybe a photo is ok and does the job but it isn’t great. In which case, the feedback comments need to be more collaborative; your writing style should have the tone of two people working together to get the best outcome.

A few do’s and don’ts

In terms of giving feedback, here a few dos and don’t:

  • Be explicit: You might know what you are referring to or what action you think is needed but is this clear to the writer? It’s easy to slip into a kind of elliptical note-form style when giving feedback so -as with writing anything – maybe read it aloud to yourself and check you are making sense (as well as the material you are reading).
  • Don’t give feedback for the sake of it: Maybe everything is working well in the material and there isn’t much to say. That’s great. Congratulate the writer. Don’t feel like you have to find a fault.
  • Avoid ‘thinking aloud’ comments: Sometimes whilst reading other writer’s materials, it triggers a thought. However interesting it might be, if it has nothing much to do with the materials in question then don’t include an open-ended comment with no real conclusion or instruction on what you think the writer should do.
  • Give feedback with a suggestion: No writer needs you to write the material for them but if you write a comment like “I don’t think this is working.” Then you need to give your reason and a suggestion for how it might be made to work. The writer might not use your suggestion but at least they’ll have a much better idea of what you are looking for.
  • Ask the right question: This is easier said than done but often writers just need a slight push in a new direction. A question is effective for this. Asking “Do you think this might work better if you…” or “Have you already tried…instead?”
  • Don’t feel insulted: Just because a writer doesn’t implement your suggestion, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t helpful. Often, a piece of seemingly unrelated feedback can switch on something on in a writer’s head and trigger the inspiration they needed.

Do you have experience of giving and receiving feedback on your materials? How do you approach the feedback process when it comes to writing?

On our YouTube channel you can watch an interview with the editor Penny Hands in which she talks about and demonstrates her approach to giving feedback. Watch the interview here. And find out about the hamburger approach to feedback here.

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