You have carefully crafted your report, blog post, or project proposal, and now it’s time to get other people’s feedback.
Asking for feedback is never easy. Ideally, everyone will rave about how brilliant you are and maybe contribute one or two gems that make the work even better.
Realistically, you know you will receive feedback you don’t want to deal with. But you also know that it should improve the result. And perhaps your workplace requires review cycles or external approvals.
So you steel yourself and send the work out for review or approval, and wait for those responses.
[Cue the sound of crickets.]
As the days and weeks pass, your excitement around the project slowly fades, until it’s another dim memory and unfinished task.
If this sounds familiar, it’s time to learn how to ask for feedback in a way that delivers results and protects your work—even if everyone’s too busy to look at it.
Make a Feedback Plan
Too often, we ask for responses and reactions in an ad hoc and unorganized way. Haphazard requests lead to haphazard results.
Make a plan.
First, clarify your objectives. Why do you need feedback? Your motives might include the following:
- Ensuring that the writing is consistent with a brand voice
- Confirming a technical issue
- Running something past the legal team to ensure compliance
Making the piece better is another worthy motive. For this, you might enlist someone who understands the reader well, and ask them how it lands.
Given those objectives and your stakeholders, identify the list of people you want to ask and what you need from each. Your list might include the key stakeholders in this piece. (See my previous post “Four Questions to Ask Before You Write.”)
Is there someone who might hold up the project, or who needs to approve it? Each person on the list might contribute something different.
You might need to ask for feedback in multiple phases, involving certain people earlier in the project. For example, confirm the technical details before you nail down the brand voice.
Your final plan might look like this:
What I need from them
When I need it
Jo in finance
Approval on the numbers
Sam in marketing
Brand voice check
Make a Clear and Explicit Request for Feedback
Now that you’ve clarified what you need, communicate those needs when sending the piece out for review. Remember, you’re asking people for their valuable time and attention. Give them everything they need to fulfill your request, without wasting their time or yours.
Don’t just send someone the draft with the note “Can you look at this?” The recipient may not know whether you want copyediting, praise, or a critique of your strategy.
When you send the request, include these three pieces of information:
- The project’s objectives and audience.
- What you want from this reviewer. (Otherwise, you might end up in a heated argument about the Oxford comma with a product engineer. And yes, this happens.)
- An explicit deadline when you need their response. Don’t make it too long. Without a deadline, it won’t get done.
Bonus: Give them a reason. People are more likely to do something that they perceive as a favor if you give them a reason.
Put it all together in a simple request. It might sound like this:
Here’s a draft of a blog post on our new initiative, intended to encourage our customers to contact sales and sign up. Can you check the description for technical accuracy? Please send me your thoughts (or a simple “ok”) by Wednesday at noon because we hope to publish it on Thursday. Thanks for your help.
You’re not done yet. Now you need to get the feedback.
Nudging vs. Nagging
Your high-priority project may be someone else’s lower priority review. People put tasks off until right before the deadline. (That’s why you give them a deadline!)
Instead of waiting until it’s late and then haranguing them, try a proactive nudge. A day or two ahead of the deadline, send a polite reminder.
Do you have any questions or comments on that blog post draft I sent last Friday? Let me know if you need anything else to get me your feedback by noon on Wednesday.
If they’re going to miss the deadline, it’s better to know ahead of time. More likely, your nudge will escalate the project and you’ll hear back from them shortly.
The Opt-Out Approval Tactic
What if you need someone’s approval and they’re not responding?
It can be hazardous, but sometimes you can resort to the “opt-out” deadline. You’ll have to assess if this is safe to do in your work environment.
This tactic works best when you invoke it when first sending the piece out for feedback. If someone has a track record of being slow or late with responses, or if they are critical to the project flow, offer this alternative.
Start with the one-sentence project description. Then instead of a straightforward deadline, add something like this:
If this looks good, you don’t need to do anything else. If I don’t hear from you by Wednesday the 10th at noon, I’ll assume you’re fine with this draft. If you have any issues, let me know right away. I welcome your feedback.
Oddly enough, most people read the thing you send them when you ask this way. It’s reverse psychology in action.
Feedback to Finish Your Writing
When you put these processes in place, you should get more meaningful, actionable feedback on your writing. Projects that need team participation and approval are more likely to see the light of day, rather than languishing in people’s inboxes and to-do lists.
About Anne Janzer
Anne Janzer is an enthusiastic WordRake user, an award-winning author, armchair cognitive science geek, nonfiction author coach, marketing practitioner, and blogger. She’s on a mission to help people spread important ideas through writing. As a professional writer, she has worked with more than one hundred technology companies, writing in the voice of countless brands and corporate executives. Her books include 33 Ways Not to Screw Up Your Business Emails, Writing to Be Understood, and Subscription Marketing. They have been published in Japanese, Korean, and Russian and are used in college writing courses.Find her blogs and review of WordRake on AnneJanzer.com.
Series on the Business Writing Process
This is part 4 of the four-part series The Business Writing Process by award-winning author Anne Janzer. To increase the odds you’ll get timely feedback, make it easy on your editors: use WordRake to clean up your writing before sending it out for review. Even if you’re in a rush to meet deadlines or gather feedback, WordRake makes it easy to clarify and elevate your writing. For easy delivery of fast, valuable edit suggestions, choose WordRake as your first reviewer. WordRake editing software is available for Microsoft Word and Outlook on Windows or for Microsoft Word only on Mac. You can try it free for 7 days.