Why you should start by asking the right questions.

Getting someone else’s opinion about your writing can feel a bit like being back at school. Red ink at the side of the page can make the most confident writer feel like they’re getting a telling off. But a fresh pair of eyes can be invaluable; finding the inconsistencies, grammatical mistakes and strange vocabulary choices which you have read too many times to notice. The trick to getting useful feedback is to be in control; ask the right person the right questions and allow enough time to act on what they say.

What do I want?

Do you want to know if the big idea makes sense? Or whether there are any spelling mistakes and grammatical errors? Or the multitude of things in-between; structure, sense, tone, vocabulary, continuity, constancy… How do I get it?

Use your answer to ‘what do I want to be told?’ to ask for the feedback that you need. Frame this with some flattery and a deadline (but don’t call it a deadline – it will sound too much like hard work) and you should get back a fair assessment of your work with enough time to apply it to your next draft.

Who should I ask?

This depends upon how much time you have and what you want to find out. At 11pm on the night before your deadline, grab the nearest hard done by spouse, available flat mate, or insomniac to check for glaring errors. With a bit more time you can enlist a colleague or friend to check for sense, logic and to give a proof-read. Early on in a large piece of work find someone who knows what you are writing about to make sure the overall structure flows. And to make sure that the big idea is correct, check with your client that you have the right end of the stick before you’ve done too much work.

What should I do with it?

Having spent hours tapping away at the keyboard to perfect your piece, how are you going to react when someone criticises your work? You don’t have to change everything that they pick up on, but take the time to work your way through the comments and to sort the useful from the useless. And try to keep some perspective; feedback is a learning tool. It can teach you how to improve your writing, how to be more specific about the feedback you require, or even who to ask for help next time! Everything that comes back is useful.

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