Creative Writing Writing 101 2017-06-04 00:00

How to Teach Your Clients to Give Better Feedback


One of the hardest lessons to learn as a new writer is how to take criticism on what you’ve written. It feels personal, seeing those red marks and negative comments on a work of art you spent hours, even days, creating.

But then, somewhere along the way, you actually start to enjoy, even crave, the feedback you used to dread. I can personally attest to this after working with dozens of writers, and feedback is the #1 thing they consistently ask for.

The problem? Most clients don’t actually know what valuable feedback looks like, especially if they aren’t writers themselves.

This leaves you, the writer, in the tough situation of trying to create content and finalize revisions for someone who struggles to communicate what they want – it's like trying to throw darts at a dartboard while blindfolded.

When writer feedback is done right, you’re able to learn more of the “why” behind your client’s suggestions, and the magic happens when your hard-earned writing skills come together to complement their expertise. To accomplish this writing bliss, you must create a designated feedback formula with your clients.

  1. Feedback Formulas That Don’t Work
  2. How to Teach Your Client to Give Better Writing Feedback
  3. Our Simple & Effective Writer Feedback Formula
  4. Be Honest and Upfront

Feedback Formulas That Don’t Work

Surely any client would be willing to get onboard with a simple process that leads to better content, right?

Unfortunately, many clients don’t see it that way. Their feedback processes (if you can even call them that) take way too much time, accomplish very little, and leave both of you feeling frustrated. Here are two common examples of feedback formulas I see all the time that just don’t work:

The endless feedback loop

You know, the ongoing and incomplete feedback where the client asks for “a few” changes, you revise the content and send them a new draft, then the client finds “a few more” changes, sends the content back to you – and nothing ever gets published. Frustrating and incredibly time-consuming.

The client who makes all the changes themselves

Undoubtedly, clients do this because they think it's saving everyone time, but that way of thinking is short-sided (am I preaching to the choir here?) Sure, you can review your client’s edits and pick up on a few things to do differently next time, but without the “why” behind them, the content will never be as strong as it could be with better communication. This also leads to you being reduced to a commodity because you're no longer part of the strategy and feedback process.

Do either of the situations above sound familiar? If so, you could probably benefit from a new and improved feedback process.

How to Teach Your Client to Give Better Writing Feedback

Before I jump into our actual feedback formula, I want to quickly discuss a few feedback non-negotiables. As a writer, you’ve probably already discovered that many of your clients don’t actually know what giving good feedback looks like.

That’s why I encourage you to start every project by “teaching” your client how to give better feedback. A few extra questions or pressing them for more detailed examples during the early stages can help things flow much smoother throughout the project and help you continually improve the content.

Here’s how to help your client help you:

1. Ask for specific examples

This is one of the best ways for clients to show you exactly what they’re looking for, and if you can “train” your client to do this it also eliminates the need for unnecessary back and forth in the future.

Many clients default to broad, overarching feedback (“The voice or tone isn’t quite right,” “It doesn’t flow the way I’d like,” etc.) but trying to make revisions based on those comments is frustrating for you and more time-consuming for your client in the long run.

If your client gives vague feedback, ask them to point out specific words or phrases that stood out to them. They don’t have to edit the entire piece of content, but giving you a few specific examples will help you make necessary revisions to the entire piece.

2. Encourage them to provide plenty of details

This piece of advice is two-fold. First, your client should be specific when they give the actual assignment. If they want high-quality, effective writing, a little extra effort upfront goes a long way.

Second, your client should provide detailed feedback if the content needs revisions once they’ve reviewed it. Here are a few ways you can encourage them to do that:

  • Ask them to rewrite a sentence to show what they mean.
  • Ask for an example of a piece of content on their site, or another website, with the tone they want.
  • Ask them to show you something in the content that does convey what they’re looking for, so you can go that direction.

Sometimes written feedback just isn’t enough, so I also encourage our clients to record a screencast with a free tool like Loom or jump on a quick call to talk through the revisions. They’ll often realize this is actually faster for them, and you’ll notice that hearing their verbal feedback can be more effective than trying to pick up on inflections in an email. Win-win.

Our Simple & Effective Writer Feedback Formula

Now, let’s look at exactly how we use these feedback strategies with our clients. We keep things pretty simple:

1. Personal preferences

Simply put, if the client wants a small, personal preference change, we let them know they can make it themselves. Our interview blogging service is great at capturing the client’s voice and expertise, but there are still some details we just couldn’t have known.

If that’s the case, our clients are free to edit the content themselves and we review the revision history to see if there are any changes we want to turn into a rule (see #3).

Examples: - specific terminology that’s popular in their industry - their preferred alternative to an app/tool/example we suggested

2. Significant changes

If significant revisions need to be made to the style or voice of the content, the client provides detailed feedback so we can make changes and learn from them moving forward. This is where those non-negotiables I mentioned in the previous section come into play.

Examples: - the voice is too formal or too casual - add a few paragraphs on how to do X

3. Rules to follow

Finally, if either of the revisions in #1 or #2 include something we should always incorporate moving forward, we ask the client to let us know so we can make it a rule.

You may not have known that the client prefers a more conversational tone when you started the project, but you can document the information and use it moving forward. The same goes with personal preferences – make a list of any terminology the client wants you to use or avoid, and refer to it each time you write something new for them.

Your client shouldn’t have to ask you to make the same types of changes for each new piece of content. It’s one thing to ask for detailed feedback, it’s entirely different to require the same feedback over and over.

Document the changes your client makes to the content and any revisions they ask from you. Then, be sure to use them!

Be Honest and Upfront

Finally, I should mention that the best way to put these feedback strategies to use is to implement them right away.

If your client seems hesitant, remind them that the benefits of giving good feedback are endless – higher quality content, less time spent emailing back and forth, and shorter revision times throughout the project, to name a few.

Don’t wait until your client has gotten in the habit of sending vague revision requests – set expectations upfront and let them know what you need from them to create the best content moving forward. The best way to start any writing project is by creating good feedback habits that make the entire project a positive experience for everyone involved.

Be confident about grammar

Check every email, essay, or story for grammar mistakes. Fix them before you press send.