My survey of 547 business writers found one big pain point: managing editorial feedback. Only half of business writers get the feedback they need, and only one in three feels that their process for managing feedback works well.
Business writers have little love for feedback processes
In this table, the first data column summarizes all the responses; the other columns classify the respondents by job title. In the first two rows of data, a score of 3 indicates a neutral response, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the statement.
These responses are lukewarm. The average writer only weakly agrees (3.4 on a scale of 1 to 5) that they get the editorial feedback they need or that their editorial processes is effective. Managers, directors, and supervisors found the process most frustrating; only 21% felt editorial processes were working well. Writers, editors, analysts, and consultants had the best experience, but even so, less than half of them were satisfied with the process of collecting and combining feedback.
As one marketer said, “Too many people reviewing drafts make it hard to get it done and draw the revision process out unnecessarily long. Trying to make every player happy results in an end product often that is watered down and less effective.”
Managing feedback without heartburn
I feel your pain. I’ve been writing for 34 years and have learned to love feedback, but hate the random and frustrating processes we use to collect it.
While my upcoming book goes into detail on how to manage editorial processes, I can leave you with a few tips that may be helpful.
- Line up the right editors, and prime them to give useful feedback. If you’re still working on ideation and structure, find yourself an editor who is good with ideas. If you’re nearly finished, get a good copy editor. People are usually willing to give feedback if you ask them nicely; take that opportunity to explain what kind of feedback you need at each stage.
- Manage feedback with tools and deadlines. You may have a project manager, or you may have to manage the feedback yourself, but either way you must get control of the process. Enforce deadlines for feedback at each stage, so reviews don’t dribble in. Insist that reviewers mark up copies in a tool that shows changes, such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs; nobody in this century should be using markups on paper. For more general feedback, have respondents write you an email or add comments at the top of the document. Set the deadlines to give you enough time to review, consider, and then combine the suggestions in one pass.
- Educate problem reviewers with a chat in person. You know who they are: the VP who is in love with jargon, the admin who thinks he wrote the Chicago Manual of Style, the manager who loves to swoop in at the last minute with voluminous annoying changes. Nothing will change if you sit there, whine to others, or just send an email. Sit down with these reviewers (or if they’re remote, Skype them) and talk about your desired audience, objectives, action, and impression. Then relate the conceptual discussion to the specific kinds of feedback you’re seeking compared to what you’re getting. Reviewers typically appreciate this kind of thoughtful discussion, which will prime them to deliver more useful feedback in the future.
- Don’t lose the soul of your writing. Edits tend to make things longer. Responding to multiple reviewers can damage the coherence of the piece. Remember, your job on each edit is to respond to the concern, not just blindly make the suggested change. If the piece ends up an incoherent pastiche, that’s your fault, not the reviewers’.
- When you need to reject or ignore changes, send a note back. Nothing creates more conflict than reviewers that feel ignored. But some suggestions are just wrong, factually, stylistically, or grammatically. At other times, reviewers contradict each other. Send your reviewers an email that says “Thanks for your feedback. I made many of the changes you requested, but had to leave some elements the same. Here’s why.” That way you can show respect to the reviewer.
You can’t completely fix editing and reviewing; it’s an area filled with conflict. But if you follow these tips, you’ll improve the process and reduce your Maalox consumption.
Survey methodology here.