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Giving and Receiving Feedback
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Giving and Receiving Feedback

Giving and Receiving Feedback

Author: Martina Shabram

Differentiate between constructive and non-constructive feedback on a piece of writing.

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Hello, students. My name is Dr. Martina Shabram. And I will be your instructor for today's lesson. I'm genuinely excited to teach you these concepts. So let's get started.

What are we going to learn today? This lesson will help us develop our skills at giving and receiving feedback. We'll learn what feedback is, how to offer constructive feedback, and how to differentiate constructive from non-constructive feedback. And finally, practice incorporating feedback into our revision process.

Feedback is advice given in response to reading an essay or other writing project, typically intended to lead revision and a second or third draft which shows improvements over the first draft. This means that feedback can be part of the writing process when a reader offers a writer reactions and suggestions to the piece of writing in question.

In college, often a piece of writing will receive feedback from instructors, peers, and even tutors or graders. But even when you're not being offered feedback as part of a course's requirements, you may still seek it out from your trusted friends and family, using their intelligence and expertise to improve your own work.

Moreover, if you're in a professional space, you may end up getting feedback from coworkers, supervisors, and other interested parties. But regardless of where and when you're getting feedback on your writing, it's probably best to have really good feedback from just a few people instead of lots of feedback from many people.

That way, you can be sure that you're seeing a diverse set of perspectives on your writing but you aren't getting overwhelmed by an avalanche of other people's opinions. Feedback may arrive to you in a few ways. Perhaps you'll have a conversation about a writing project with a boss, teacher, or friend. Or, you may receive physical notes on your writing, whether that's digitally or on paper from a peer or an instructor.

Or you may just get a note at the end of the paper summarizing the reader's feedback and thoughts about what you've written. However you receive feedback, it's important to learn how to assess if that feedback is constructive or not and how to incorporate it into your writing.

Let's see how feedback will look so that we can assess whether it's constructive or not. Here is a short piece with some feedback on it. Take a moment to read this paragraph and the feedback by pressing pause. And press play again when you're ready to discuss.

What do we notice here? This reader has a lot of questions about the ideas in this essay. The reader is posing those questions to the author in a respectful tone and is pushing the line of reasoning forward in a positive constructive manner.

In the places where the reader doesn't understand something that the writer has written, she frames her confusion as a personal experience, not as the default of the author. Overall, this feedback conforms to the ideals of constructive feedback.

The best, most constructive feedback will offer insights into your ideas, organization, and style that can be implemented. We'll ask probing questions that help you reconsider and enrich your own ideas. And we'll stick with personally focused, I-based comments such as I don't understand.

Now here's the same paragraph with feedback from a different reviewer. Notice how different the tone is. Right away, the reader seems to be making judgments about whether or not this is a valid argument, not about how the argument is constructed. This reader disagrees with the values that the author is espousing and that's really all she's commenting on here. This is based on her own opinion, not on what the author has presented in this piece of writing.

Moreover, the reader uses words like unrealistic and dumb, which aren't helpful to the author and are even kind of mean. Overall, these just aren't notes that an author can incorporate into a new draft. They're personal attacks against her. So overall, this isn't constructive.

Non-constructive feedback will often look like this and will be so critical that making its changes would be very difficult, will contain personal attacks against the author, will place a judgement on the values of the piece instead of on the way the piece was written, or be so non-critical that it doesn't demonstrate any meaningful changes that the author can make, such as if someone just writes, I like it or it's fine or even I don't get it. None of that is feedback that I can use to enrich my arguments.

Obviously, we want to avoid non-constructive feedback, both when we give and receive comments on our writing. So whether it's constructive and substantial, or unconstructive and vague, feedback can still help improve your writing. But it can be hard to read someone's reactions to your work, whether those reactions are positive or negative.

So it's important to approach feedback as neutrally as you can. If you find that on first review, you're responding to feedback angrily or it's making you feel defensive or you're getting upset, go ahead and take a break to clear your head, and return when you're ready to approach the feedback dispassionately.

Once you're in that mindset and ready to assess your feedback, start by asking yourself, how can I use this to make my writing better. If your feedback is full of useful notes and questions, then you'll have lots of material to work with. But even if the feedback isn't very helpful, you can still use it to make your work better. If you get non-constructive feedback about a particular idea or passage, you can still reread and review that passage, even if you don't have helpful notes on how to change it.

So let's see how this will work. Here's a short paragraph that has received some feedback. Take a moment to read both and decide how you would incorporate this feedback.

So we can see that the feedback is mostly interested in this part of the paragraph, where the author proposes a solution to discrimination by creating more characters with disabilities. The reader is curious about how these characters will be written and is concerned that certain portrayals of blindness might lead to more discrimination.

So how could the author incorporate this feedback? I would start by writing out an answer to this question. Then I would think about how this idea changes my argument by adding in a caveat or a wrinkle to the proposal that I'm making. And I would add that in. Adding in these ideas improves the overall argument, making this a stronger piece of writing.

So what if, instead of responding positively, I read this feedback and say, ugh, this person has no idea what I'm trying to propose. Of course, stereotypes will do more harm than good. That is so obvious. I just don't think she's even paying attention to what I'm saying.

That might not be a very productive or positive response. But it can be illuminating, anyhow. As that outburst showed, I, as the author, assumed that my readers would know that I don't want stereotypical characters. But the reader's line of questioning shows that she didn't know that by the time she finished reading my argument.

So that means that I didn't do a very good job of addressing that issue and that my assumption needs to be addressed. So this feedback, and my negative response against it, may still have shown me that there is a gap between what I'm thinking I'm saying and what my essay is actually saying. And that tells me that I should add those ideas in.

So what did we learn today? We discussed what feedback is and why it's so useful in our writing process. We learned the difference between constructive feedback and non-constructive feedback. Finally, we thought about how we can incorporate feedback into our revision process, even when we react negatively to it at first.

Well, students, I hope you had as much fun as I did. Thank you.

Terms to Know

Advice given in response to reading an essay or other writing project; typically intended to lead to revision and a second or third draft which shows improvements over the first draft.