How to ask for constructive feedback on your writing?

If you are a writer, asking for feedback on your writing is inevitable and, more so, indispensable. Bringing in an outside perspective can enrich the text and generate ideas for improvement. But sometimes, it might also result in unhelpful feedback. To avoid it, narrow down your goal in asking for feedback and keep it in mind when reaching out to a beta reader or editor. For instance, consider if you want to hear a general critique, diagnose specific issues (e.g. a chapter or a character’s development) or check if your writing conveys the intended message.

Minimise the risk of unhelpful feedback

It is easy to receive unhelpful feedback on your writing if you do not structure your request right. For instance, The Mom Test book, which discusses asking for feedback in a business setting, describes three types of bad (not useful) feedback:

  • compliments (‘I enjoyed reading it’ or ‘I love it!’)
  • generic feedback (‘I would buy this book’)
  • and unsolicited advice (‘Have you considered doing it this way?’)

Work with a professional editor

Supportive family members and friends might not provide a critique that will help you make the argument or the flow stronger. Also, they might not indicate that you communicate your ideas clearly enough. That is why every writer’s to-do list should include reaching out to someone who would be their target reader or editor specialising in their topic. Without the ties of familiarity, a beta reader or developmental editor may be able to provide more direct, honest and, above all, constructive feedback.

For instance, a developmental editor can help an author identify the strengths and weaknesses of a manuscript and provide objective and helpful feedback on the prose. The role of a developmental editor is to assist the author in crafting a compelling narrative, refining the language and improving the manuscript’s pacing, tone and overall structure. 

By working with a professional developmental editor, an author can gain valuable insights into the craft of writing and learn how to improve the quality of their work. Furthermore, a professional developmental editor can provide:

  • a fresh perspective on the manuscript
  • suggestions on streamlining the plot
  • help with developing the characters and enhancing the themes
  • help with identifying plot holes and inconsistencies

Overall, working with a professional developmental editor can be an invaluable experience for any author looking to improve their craft and take their writing to the next level. With their expertise, guidance, and support, an author can refine their manuscript into a polished and publishable work of art.

Request general critique

Open questions such as ‘What did you think?’ may not provide as many constructive answers as one would hope. Even if you only want a general critique, you need to ask open yet specific questions, for instance:

  • What is working right now?
  • What do you find confusing?
  • What changes would you suggest for my next draft?

Diagnose problem areas

If there are parts you find particularly bothersome or where you are stuck, ask exactly about those. They might include a section, a chapter, a book ending or a character’s development. To drill into them from an even more micro perspective, try the highlighter method and ask your reader to break down a particular page, section or paragraph. Also, you could ask them to highlight parts which were clear in one colour and use a different colour for the confusing bits.

Do a comms check

If your goal is to confirm that what you think your argument is and what the reader understands as your argument are the same thing, you could ask questions such as:

  • What is the argument in the text?
  • What am I trying to say in this text?
  • What is the conclusion of the book?

If the reader or editor responds with an argument close to what you had in mind when writing the text, then you know you were able to communicate your ideas effectively. On the flip side, if they come up with something different, it will narrow down your areas for improvement.

Another question you might want to add is:

  • What patterns do you notice in my writing?

Editing the text yourself is hard, and asking about patterns could help you discover aspects of your delivery that you overlooked. For instance, an editor with more distance to the text could easily spot the author’s tendency to start the paragraphs in the same way or use repetitive vocabulary (which might be hard to notice for the author).

Conclusion

Self-editing is challenging when you are too close to the text, and you might not always be able to get constructive feedback on your writing from friends and family. Sometimes, asking for the perspective of a developmental editor might be the best solution.

I have experience critiquing non-fiction manuscripts at different levels of development. If you would like to discuss your manuscript or receive a free sample edit, contact me (and remember to use my early bird discount). Follow me on MastodonTwitter and LinkedIn or join my newsletter for more self-editing and writing tips.

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Magda

I am an editor, indexer and a lifelong lover of literature with a PhD in literary history. I am an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), a student member of the Society of Indexers and a vetted partner of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).