Three Rules for Giving Good Feedback

As has been well documented (and repeated ad infinitum), we are in the midst of a thought leadership, content marketing explosion. Also well-documented are the characteristics of this explosion and if you’ve somehow dodged the shrapnel, you can read all about its magnitude here, the trends here, what isn’t thought leadership here, and, most importantly, what is and how to do it well, here.

I’ll wait until you finish following the links and reading the articles. They’re by my Bloom Group colleagues and they’re quite good.

Welcome back.

With all this thought leadership going on, chief marketing officers and content directors have been employing an ever-growing army of writers (some full-time, some contractors) to help turn their experts’ ideas into articles and White Papers. And while their experts’ ideas may be novel and actionable, it’s rare that writers get it right on the first try. That’s when you have to give feedback that will turn those first drafts into second-draft gems that will attract leads and business and make you look good.

Here are three simple rules for providing constructive criticism that will encourage your writers to go the extra mile to capture your experts’ point of view and help you (and your experts) develop the content you need.

  1. First, say something nice. This is good advice for all human transactions, but it is especially important when you’re about to tell a writer what she definitely does not want to hear: that she has more work to do. Unless you begin by saying something nice, the writers’ ears will close; she will become defensive, and everything will become much harder than it needs to be. Surprisingly, too many people fail to do this. They lead by saying what they don’t like about an article rather than what they do. Now, admittedly, it sometimes may be hard to find something positive to say, but you can do it. Standbys include: “This is a good start,” or “I think you’ve really grasped the concept,” or, “I like the way you put [fill in the blank].” If the start is bad, the writer, in fact, hasn’t grasped the concept, and there’s absolutely nothing in the article you like, you can always say, “I very much appreciate your effort.” That may not be a lot, but it’s better than nothing.
  2. Be constructive, not destructive. There is absolutely no useful purpose served – ever – by denigrating a person’s work unless you believe the writer intentionally has done a slipshod or lazy job and you’ve decided never to employ him again. And even then being dismissive or sarcastic is a waste of time you shouldn’t be able to spare. If you believe, however, that the writer has tried and simply missed the mark, swallow your frustration. Repress your urge to punish. Instead of highlighting a paragraph and asking, “Why would anyone with half a brain believe this is true?” suggest that this might be a good place for an example. If you know what you want, say so, simply, directly, and unemotionally. If you don’t, that’s your problem, not his, and it’s a problem you won’t solve by acting like an angry, disappointed parent.
  3. Do what you can yourself. If, for example, your house style is not to use contractions, and the article is full of contractions, fix that yourself. Fix whatever is obvious and easy. Telling your writer to do it herself conveys the impression that your time is more important than hers, and that this is not a collaborative effort. It should be. That’s how the best work gets done. (And, by the way, what’s wrong with contractions?)

If you follow these three simple rules, I think you’ll find you will get better work out of your writers. Writers who enjoy working with and for you will try harder. Writers who don’t, won’t. And remember: You’re not the only fish in the content marketing sea and the best writers these days can pick and choose for whom they wish to work, the money being equal.

So, be nice. Be helpful. Pitch in.

As my grandmother used to say, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.


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