If you work in content, you probably spend an enormous amount of time either giving or receiving feedback. The best feedback evolves your content, while bad feedback leaves you saying “So, what is it you actually want me to do?” Writing good feedback isn’t the easiest either, but fortunately, it’s a skill anyone can build.
I’ve had days where 90% of my time was spent writing feedback. What I’ve learned is that the best way to get your feedback heard is through clarity. Crystal clarity.
🔥 Burn the sandwich
You’ve probably heard of the feedback sandwich—where you provide a piece of critical feedback by “sandwiching” it between two compliments. This is meant to soften the blow of the criticism. It’s transparent, unhelpful, and in some cases, insulting. What it really does is wash away your feedback. Save your sandwiches for lunch! Or breakfast. Or second breakfast.
Using the feedback sandwich is especially bad for newbies. Individuals who are early in their career (obviously) have less practice giving feedback, which often means their feedback is less clear. When surrounded by compliments, the recipient usually takes this feedback as a “nice to have” or interprets it as unimportant. This, of course, becomes needlessly frustrating for the reviewer. During their next review, they find that little to none of their feedback has been incorporated and they have to provide it all over again. How rude.
The Becca method
I’ve slowly been building up the following method of providing feedback over the last five years. It works best when you’re a subject matter expert (SME) in the area you’re reviewing (steps 3 & 4 can be difficult without expertise), but you can always plug in analogous examples for those steps
Step 1 - Provide absolute clarity
Give crystal clear feedback. Be specific. Be candid. You don’t need to be insulting to do either of those things, I promise. The goal is to ensure your author has zero confusion about the issue. Don’t leave it to interpretation.
Step 2 - Justify your critique
Why are you giving this feedback? Is it an issue of content guidelines? Is clarity an issue? Understanding where your critique comes from will give your author a better idea of how to fix it. Better yet, it could help prevent future issues.
Step 3 - Lead by example
What could be an alternative way to do this? If you have a clear example that further demonstrates your point, use it. However, be careful with this one. If you’re working with less experienced writers, you might end up providing examples again and again—essentially writing for them. Sometimes a better approach is to show an analogous example.
Step 4 - Show the effect
Why would that alternative be better? Build on your example by examining why it improves the work.
Other helpful methods
If you have a lot of feedback to provide, justifying it and providing examples can be pretty cumbersome, and frankly overkill. Using emojis (along with a key) can provide the clarity you need. Just make sure your chosen emojis are clear and you aren’t using too many. For example, the following key is short and sweet:
- ⭐ (star) - Excellent point! Well done!
- 😕 (confused) - This is unclear. I don’t understand what you mean here.
- 🐛 (bug) - Something is broken. Please fix.
If you review a lot of the same type of content, you probably provide a lot of the same feedback. It can be frustrating to write and rewrite the same thing over and over. Having a standing bank of feedback can help out. Collect feedback you’ve already given in a doc or a spreadsheet. Review and edit your feedback to be more “generic”, that is, if you’ve mentioned something really specific, like an author’s name, you can remove it, so that’s easier to copy and paste next time. You can reuse unrelated examples, but make sure to include a “before and after” to make sure your current author understands your intent.
I’ve done something similar in two previous roles and it significantly reduced the time I spent writing feedback. I made sure to provide a reason for my comment, a justification along with a reference (to ensure my authors that my comment was not an opinion), and a before and after to demonstrate the potential improvement.
Giving (and receiving) feedback is a crucial skill in any field, but as content people, reviews are a staple of our workflow. The ability to craft feedback that is understandable and actionable is crucial to moving content closer to launch. A systematic approach that provides clarity and sets expectations can help achieve this goal.