Ten tips for giving and receiving feedback

Ten tips for giving and receiving feedback


You have a message. You have identified your target audience. How do you know if the dots connect?

Ask for feedback—in writing or face to face.

Reader feedback is the simplest and most direct form of usability testing. Savvy writers and designers seek feedback to improve the clarity and impact of their message. It sounds sensible enough, but giving and receiving feedback is an art.

Following are some tips to inspire your courage and curiosity.


For the feedback receiver:

Listen up; don’t explain, justify or defend what you did. You’re seeking information about how the text influenced a reader. The information is useful, regardless of your reasons for doing what you did. If you want to have a discussion later, that’s okay, but it isn’t feedback.

Consider it; don’t reject or ignore it. You don’t have to agree with the feedback, and you are not compelled to change anything because of it. But be curious about the reader’s experience.

Recap and ask clarifying questions to ensure that you understood correctly. Don’t interpret; just repeat what you understood and then ask if that’s what the reader meant.

Go after it. By asking for feedback, you send a signal that you are interested in meeting your readers’ needs.

Appreciate it. Say thank you. Feedback gives you insight into the experience of another person. It’s rich data that you can’t get any other way.


For the feedback giver:

Be constructive. Say what you liked about the text. If appropriate, tell the writer or designer what would have helped you understand the text more quickly and thoroughly.

Make observations, not judgments. Say what you get from the message, and how it makes you feel or think. Did you understand? Are you convinced? Did you struggle with a specific point?

Be specific, not general. For example, instead of saying “this was confusing,” say “here’s where I got lost” or “this part has terms I don’t understand.” And instead of saying “this design is great,” explain how it helped you find what you need and make sense of the information. 

Focus on your experience. You are offering direct and valuable insight about your experience as a reader. It's great to also imagine what the experience might be like for other readers; but that's not feedback. 

Only give feedback if you are asked. If the writer or designer doesn’t ask you for feedback, your insights are unlikely to make a positive difference. If you haven't been invited to give feedback but are itching to offer it anyway, ask first if the feedback would be useful.


LOST FOR WORDS? Try an “I…because” statement

An “I…because” statement is a statement of how you think or feel, followed by a reason.

Here are some examples:

- “I like the way you list the key messages up front because it gives me a clear sense of what to expect in the rest of the text.”

- “I would like to see these comparisons illustrated with a bar graph because the numbers didn’t jump out and convince me.”


Putting these tips into practice may feel awkward at first, but you will gain confidence with experience.  

Onward, brave messengers.


About the Author

Joanne Wise uses plain-language strategies to help clients think through their ideas and communicate results with clarity and impact—online and in print.