Intake Blog

Providing Feedback: Commenting on writing at work

posted May 07, 2012 by David Wright

Today, I was thinking about the feedback process. To be precise, I was thinking about how much time communicators spend commenting on the written work of others. Every day, in fact, almost every hour, when we aren’t creating our own (completely brilliant) work, we are coaching our clients, colleagues and direct reports to write with clarity, impact, and passion to drive business forward.  

Practiced every day, feedback can yield enormous benefits to the development of your team and produce great work. However so many of us do a poor job taking the time to deliver thoughtful feedback because of stress, time constraints, or simply lack of practice, Unfortunately,  the result of poor feedback can de-motivate and demoralize the person with whom you’re partnering.  This is neither productive, nor collaborative, and frankly not focused on producing the best work.

I began my working life as a university writing instructor. After hundreds of students and thousands of papers, you quickly realize a few things:

  • It’s not about you. Or the writer for that matter; it’s about the writing.
  • Giving feedback effectively is a skill that must be learned and practiced, like playing a guitar, not riding a bike.
  • There’s more than one way to effectively achieve the same objectives. Be open to variation.
  • No one intends to be “confusing,” “awkward,” or “boring,” so beware of using these code words we may have learned from our teachers.  Just saying “awkward” really doesn’t help anyone get better.

After  a career in corporate America, I think the list below of five dos and don’ts  are just as relevant in creating a positive feedback environment that will empower and improve your team. 


  1. Know the writer’s objectives  and audience BEFORE you read
  2. Read the whole piece, all the way through, before commenting
  3. Find two positive comments for every developmental comment
  4. Focus comments on the writing, not the person
  5. Comment on trends, not grammar (until the end)


  1. Assume there’s one right answer
  2. Blame the writer; address the writing
  3. Focus on word choice or text changes (until the end)
  4. Change words that don’t change meaning
  5. Forget—this is a collaboration

Writers from all over read Intake, so please let us know what other tips you have for creating a positive environment for feedback!