How to provide feedback on content

How to provide feedback on content

8 minute read

How to provide feedback on content

8 minute read

How to provide feedback on content

Masooma Memon

Freelance writer

Giving constructive feedback on content is hard work. You’ve got to watch your tone, make sure your suggestions are specific and helpful, and explain exactly what it is that’s not right. All while ensuring you don’t come off as the villain in a writer’s story.

You could certainly make some edits yourself. In the long term though, that rarely helps. You end up spending more time on avoidable edits.

On the other hand, the content writer fails to understand your requirements and keeps making mistakes that can be avoided if you take the time to explain them instead of editing them yourself.  

So, how can you provide meaningful feedback that improves content production and keeps both ends happy simultaneously? I’ve packed in some helpful tips in this post to help you give clear and actionable feedback.

For this post, I’ve also talked to two Content Leads and asked them how they give feedback in a manner that’s both specific and not disheartening for the writer.

Give timely feedback when the content is created

There’s a drawback to delaying feedback: the odds of forgetting what you had planned for the content start to stack up. You’ll find yourself snaking through old comments or email threads to revise what you had agreed to with the writer.

A client of mine took over a month to give feedback on a blog post that I had submitted. Guess what happened? All the research I had done for that piece got blurry in my mind. Sure, it was there on my notes, but the thoughts I had had while planning and writing the content all had bid farewell long before I heard back from the editor. 

The solution here is simple: agree on a deadline for the content piece with the freelancer or teammate and add it to your calendar. This way you wouldn’t put off giving feedback to a later time.

Be clear about who is going to give feedback

Many of us have editors dedicated to giving feedback on content. Others (mainly small teams with tight budgets) might still be deciding who’ll give feedback on the content. Some might even continue wondering who’ll do so even after the draft comes through.

The result? You’re not sure who’ll give feedback so you decide, ‘hey, let’s all give it a read and we can tell the writer what we want.’

Alas, you forget something very important: multiple teammates giving feedback can confuse the writer and may also contradict each other’s feedback. Put some trust in the writer you’re working with and understand that you need one or two, at best, sets of eyes on their work.

For instance, Alina Benny, the Content Lead at Nextiva, shares it’s usually only her giving feedback on the content. Sometimes, a second pair of eyes may scrutinise the copy. Even so, only Alina remains at the forefront of giving one on one feedback to the writer.

Prepare a detailed content brief to prevent unnecessary edits

You need a brief or outline that clearly highlights what’s required of the content, the style to follow, and answers other questions that a writer may have. Allie Decker, the Head of Content at Omniscient Digital calls this “pre-feedback.”

Alina also shares that her team spends a good one hour on writing detailed briefs that include all the mandatory details such as:

  • Target keyword(s)
  • Headline options
  • Suggestions for content structure
  • Internal links 
  • Competitive analysis

Taking the time for pre-feedback helps you in two ways. One, thorough details before the work starts means you save time on questions that writers may have as they start writing. Allie adds:

"It eases writers—who come from different backgrounds and are working on various client accounts—into one main content creation process. This helps us create the best possible content."

Tips for giving constructive feedback

Being constructive with your feedback is easier said than done. The following tips will help you give actionable feedback:

Read the content thoroughly before you get into editing mode

It’s important you understand the content before you make any suggestions for edits. Once you’ve done that, re-read to request your edits. Look for:

1. The flow of the piece (the narrative) and how its structured

2. Whether it follows your tone of voice

3. How well it is formatted according to your style guide and

4. Any copy edits needed

Start off with  positive feedback

This is really important. Rather than focus on the negative from the start, share positive feedback on the areas that you like. 

Allie, for instance, explains:

"I try to provide one to two positive comments. Sometimes, I’ll highlight an amazing sentence or creative approach and simply comment “🔥”. My job is to help these writers improve, and highlighting what they do right helps them know what to do again."

This also tells the writer what’s working, so they can use similar tactics in other content pieces.

Be specific with your feedback

Multiple studies confirm that feedback tends to be useful when it’s specific. If there’s a sentence that’s off, point it out. If an entire paragraph doesn’t flow well, highlight it and request for a rewrite.

The more specific you are about what’s incorrect, the more actionable your feedback will be and the better the writer will understand what’s needed. Being specific also helps you give “feedback with a solution instead of merely providing a laundry list of red lines,” as Allie puts it. 

Explain what’s lacking with the content

If there’s one thing that supplements being specific, it’s adding sufficient explanation to what you need. It’s best you don’t be subjective here. Alina shares it never helps to say something along the lines of “this sucks.” 

Not only does that approach lack empathy, but it doesn’t sufficiently explain what you didn’t like as well – making the entire feedback giving process subjective.

Back up your comments with an example

One good way to explain your point is by backing your feedback with examples. For instance, if you find the introduction isn’t strong enough, share examples of other content with engaging introductions. 

A client once explained that I was using several analogies at a time and that I needed to stick with one or two. She also included a relevant example of a post building on one analogy to explain that point to me. Not only did I understand her point better (thanks to the example), but I learned a good lesson too. Win win.

Always use a tool that highlights the edits made

For instance, GatherContent and Google Docs are helpful tools. The changes you make in the files are highlighted for the writer to see. This means that even if you’re making small edits, for example, changes in the formatting, your writer can see and improvise the next time.

Here’s an example from one of my clients: 

An image showing a screenshot of some written feedback on a piece of content.

I’ve saved this in my Trello board for future reference. Mainly though, I’ve now committed this feedback to my memory since I write a lot for this client.

Leave some room for the writer’s opinion too

Chances are you’ve pointed out something that a writer purposefully chose to put that way. Or, the writer has learned something works better in X fashion rather than Y. Either way, it’s best you don’t give feedback like it’s an ultimatum.

Allie gives space to writers to voice their concerns if needed. She elucidates, “all my writers know that my comments are 100% up for discussion. Despite being Head of Content at Omniscient, I recognise these pieces were written by brilliant, creative writers—which is why we hire these folks to begin with. I don’t want my feedback to be an ‘I-have-the-final-say”’ system; I want it to open a dialogue of ideas and various approaches to storytelling and SEO.”

Besides, leaving space for discussion also tells the content creator you respect their work, which helps you build good relationships with them.

Tying it all together

To recap, make sure you aren’t being subjective or vague as you give feedback on content. Back your points with examples and explain what’s off. Plus, don’t forget to have a feedback forward approach or, like Allie puts it, “give feedback in a future context.” 

This technique is known as Feed Forward. Its focus is simple: you give feedback in terms of how a content writer can do better in future scenarios. Here’s an example from Allie on how to do so, “instead of commenting on how a writer poorly explained a concept, I’ll say “Let’s expand on X, give examples, and approach future topics in the same way.”

This way you’re telling your writer what works and what doesn’t while also reducing the odds of getting the same sort of edits in other content pieces.

Giving constructive feedback on content is hard work. You’ve got to watch your tone, make sure your suggestions are specific and helpful, and explain exactly what it is that’s not right. All while ensuring you don’t come off as the villain in a writer’s story.

You could certainly make some edits yourself. In the long term though, that rarely helps. You end up spending more time on avoidable edits.

On the other hand, the content writer fails to understand your requirements and keeps making mistakes that can be avoided if you take the time to explain them instead of editing them yourself.  

So, how can you provide meaningful feedback that improves content production and keeps both ends happy simultaneously? I’ve packed in some helpful tips in this post to help you give clear and actionable feedback.

For this post, I’ve also talked to two Content Leads and asked them how they give feedback in a manner that’s both specific and not disheartening for the writer.

Give timely feedback when the content is created

There’s a drawback to delaying feedback: the odds of forgetting what you had planned for the content start to stack up. You’ll find yourself snaking through old comments or email threads to revise what you had agreed to with the writer.

A client of mine took over a month to give feedback on a blog post that I had submitted. Guess what happened? All the research I had done for that piece got blurry in my mind. Sure, it was there on my notes, but the thoughts I had had while planning and writing the content all had bid farewell long before I heard back from the editor. 

The solution here is simple: agree on a deadline for the content piece with the freelancer or teammate and add it to your calendar. This way you wouldn’t put off giving feedback to a later time.

Be clear about who is going to give feedback

Many of us have editors dedicated to giving feedback on content. Others (mainly small teams with tight budgets) might still be deciding who’ll give feedback on the content. Some might even continue wondering who’ll do so even after the draft comes through.

The result? You’re not sure who’ll give feedback so you decide, ‘hey, let’s all give it a read and we can tell the writer what we want.’

Alas, you forget something very important: multiple teammates giving feedback can confuse the writer and may also contradict each other’s feedback. Put some trust in the writer you’re working with and understand that you need one or two, at best, sets of eyes on their work.

For instance, Alina Benny, the Content Lead at Nextiva, shares it’s usually only her giving feedback on the content. Sometimes, a second pair of eyes may scrutinise the copy. Even so, only Alina remains at the forefront of giving one on one feedback to the writer.

Prepare a detailed content brief to prevent unnecessary edits

You need a brief or outline that clearly highlights what’s required of the content, the style to follow, and answers other questions that a writer may have. Allie Decker, the Head of Content at Omniscient Digital calls this “pre-feedback.”

Alina also shares that her team spends a good one hour on writing detailed briefs that include all the mandatory details such as:

  • Target keyword(s)
  • Headline options
  • Suggestions for content structure
  • Internal links 
  • Competitive analysis

Taking the time for pre-feedback helps you in two ways. One, thorough details before the work starts means you save time on questions that writers may have as they start writing. Allie adds:

"It eases writers—who come from different backgrounds and are working on various client accounts—into one main content creation process. This helps us create the best possible content."

Tips for giving constructive feedback

Being constructive with your feedback is easier said than done. The following tips will help you give actionable feedback:

Read the content thoroughly before you get into editing mode

It’s important you understand the content before you make any suggestions for edits. Once you’ve done that, re-read to request your edits. Look for:

1. The flow of the piece (the narrative) and how its structured

2. Whether it follows your tone of voice

3. How well it is formatted according to your style guide and

4. Any copy edits needed

Start off with  positive feedback

This is really important. Rather than focus on the negative from the start, share positive feedback on the areas that you like. 

Allie, for instance, explains:

"I try to provide one to two positive comments. Sometimes, I’ll highlight an amazing sentence or creative approach and simply comment “🔥”. My job is to help these writers improve, and highlighting what they do right helps them know what to do again."

This also tells the writer what’s working, so they can use similar tactics in other content pieces.

Be specific with your feedback

Multiple studies confirm that feedback tends to be useful when it’s specific. If there’s a sentence that’s off, point it out. If an entire paragraph doesn’t flow well, highlight it and request for a rewrite.

The more specific you are about what’s incorrect, the more actionable your feedback will be and the better the writer will understand what’s needed. Being specific also helps you give “feedback with a solution instead of merely providing a laundry list of red lines,” as Allie puts it. 

Explain what’s lacking with the content

If there’s one thing that supplements being specific, it’s adding sufficient explanation to what you need. It’s best you don’t be subjective here. Alina shares it never helps to say something along the lines of “this sucks.” 

Not only does that approach lack empathy, but it doesn’t sufficiently explain what you didn’t like as well – making the entire feedback giving process subjective.

Back up your comments with an example

One good way to explain your point is by backing your feedback with examples. For instance, if you find the introduction isn’t strong enough, share examples of other content with engaging introductions. 

A client once explained that I was using several analogies at a time and that I needed to stick with one or two. She also included a relevant example of a post building on one analogy to explain that point to me. Not only did I understand her point better (thanks to the example), but I learned a good lesson too. Win win.

Always use a tool that highlights the edits made

For instance, GatherContent and Google Docs are helpful tools. The changes you make in the files are highlighted for the writer to see. This means that even if you’re making small edits, for example, changes in the formatting, your writer can see and improvise the next time.

Here’s an example from one of my clients: 

An image showing a screenshot of some written feedback on a piece of content.

I’ve saved this in my Trello board for future reference. Mainly though, I’ve now committed this feedback to my memory since I write a lot for this client.

Leave some room for the writer’s opinion too

Chances are you’ve pointed out something that a writer purposefully chose to put that way. Or, the writer has learned something works better in X fashion rather than Y. Either way, it’s best you don’t give feedback like it’s an ultimatum.

Allie gives space to writers to voice their concerns if needed. She elucidates, “all my writers know that my comments are 100% up for discussion. Despite being Head of Content at Omniscient, I recognise these pieces were written by brilliant, creative writers—which is why we hire these folks to begin with. I don’t want my feedback to be an ‘I-have-the-final-say”’ system; I want it to open a dialogue of ideas and various approaches to storytelling and SEO.”

Besides, leaving space for discussion also tells the content creator you respect their work, which helps you build good relationships with them.

Tying it all together

To recap, make sure you aren’t being subjective or vague as you give feedback on content. Back your points with examples and explain what’s off. Plus, don’t forget to have a feedback forward approach or, like Allie puts it, “give feedback in a future context.” 

This technique is known as Feed Forward. Its focus is simple: you give feedback in terms of how a content writer can do better in future scenarios. Here’s an example from Allie on how to do so, “instead of commenting on how a writer poorly explained a concept, I’ll say “Let’s expand on X, give examples, and approach future topics in the same way.”

This way you’re telling your writer what works and what doesn’t while also reducing the odds of getting the same sort of edits in other content pieces.

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About the author

Masooma Memon

Masooma Memon is a pizza-loving freelance writer for SaaS. When she’s not writing actionable blog posts or checking off tasks from her to-do list, she has her head buried in a fantasy novel or business book. Connect with her on Twitter.

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