Good feedback does more than just boost morale. It can make you a magnet for better work product.
To inspire change, recast your feedback as something the writer could do on the screen the next time, not something you want a draft to be.
That means getting beyond squishy mantras and circular adjectives. What does “Write for the reader!” look like when you close your eyes and imagine it on a computer screen? Not much. The same for other popular slogans like “Be concise!” and “Organize, organize, organize!” Why do these well-intended lines rarely work? Because the original writer already has those goals but needs a concrete way to achieve them. After all, there’s a reason pole-vaulting coaches do more than just bellow “Jump Higher!” all day long.
Let’s turn some popular writing mantras into sample action items.
Doing Is Being
No: “You need to be more concise.”
Yes: “Cut 20% of the words from this draft.”
No: “You need to be more accurate.”
Yes: “Verify all cross-referenced provisions and triple-check all party names and currencies.”
No: “You need to be more organized and persuasive.”
Yes: “Start your motion with three reasons the judge should do what you want, and then turn those reasons into argument headings.”
No: “You need to be clearer when you write.”
Yes: “Read your document aloud. When you falter or run out of breath, imagine how you’d make the same point in a casual conversation and then write those words down.”
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