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Using Feedback in Revising

Using Feedback in Revising

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson explains how to revise using outside feedback.

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Welcome back to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me. What are we going to learn today? We'll be learning about how to incorporate outside feedback into our revision process. We'll talk about the people most likely to give and receive feedback, and how writers can most effectively respond to it. Then we'll look at an example of a text that's had an outside reader's response.

Revision, the process of revisioning and rethinking an essay, its ideas, structure, and support, doesn't have to be a lonely process. It's important for writers to have strategies for self-critiquing their work, because we can't always have someone to critique it for us. And self-critiquing can provide us with a useful perspective. But that being said, one of the best ways to improve a draft is to have a reader look at it and give his or her honest reaction.

Knowing how to receive and respond to such feedback is an important skill for any writer, especially when trying to succeed in academia, with its high prioritization of peer-reviewed work and participation in bigger, broader conversations. Receiving constructive criticism can be hard, because writing is hard. It's personal, and no one really wants to see or hear the product of his or her hard work being criticized.

Still, it's important for a writer to cultivate a thick skin and an open mind when receiving feedback on writing. This is the only way to effectively take advantage of the opinions, insights, and perspectives of others when receiving feedback. In college, various people can give feedback, including teachers, graders, and fellow students. Writers can also seek out feedback from people they trust, and whose perspectives they respect-- significant others, friends, parents, family members, and so forth.

Writers in a professional situation may also receive feedback, from bosses or colleagues and any other interested parties. But no matter what the situation, it's usually preferable to have only a handful of responders to a text, rather than a lot. Too few, and you limit your new perspectives. But too many responders can create a "too many cooks in the kitchen" effect, stifling the writer's ability to respond to any particular piece of criticism.

Feedback can come and still be useful at different stages of the writing process. It can come in the form of written comments, for example, notes scratched on a hard copy or digital comments in the document. It can come in the form of a summarized statement or letter, or as a personal conversation. And no matter what its format, feedback can be either constructive or not constructive.

Feedback is generally not constructive if it's either so critical that the writer has difficulty implementing any of the suggested changes, or so noncritical that it provides no helpful insights into what the writer should work on. Constructive feedback toes a fine line between these two, providing useful insights and ideas that can be practically implemented by the writer.

As with all other stages of the writing process, writers are in control of their essays when responding to feedback. And they can choose how or even if to incorporate any of the suggested changes, based on their vision and purpose for the essay. And as one of my former teachers used to say, "You should listen to advice, but you don't have to follow it," unless of course that advice is coming from a boss or a teacher, someone with whom it's not worth arguing over a text's particular characteristics or purposes. Choosing to ignore strong feedback from a superior-- in or out of the academic context, that is-- should be done carefully, and only with counterarguments that defend the writer's methodology and goals.

Outside of that kind of situation, however, there are several strategies for responding to feedback. These strategies are not mutually exclusive, and in general I recommend that writers, especially beginning writers, use or incorporate them all in one way or another. First, it's important to go into the revision process with an open mind, whether reading comments scattered over a paper summarized in writing, or in a conversation.

Pay attention to what kind of feedback you're getting. Is it a big picture comment, or does it focus on ideas or concepts? Is it looking at your essay's structure and organization, or is it feedback on style? Is it feedback about your formatting, grammar, or other technical details? Depending on what the feedback is looking at, your responses should change.

It's generally most important to pay attention to feedback on or about the big picture of your work. Take what the reviewer says seriously, and wrestle with how to address his or her concerns. After all, this is a different perspective on the whole of your text. And even if you don't agree with the general point being raised, it behooves you to consider where it comes from and how you and your work could better take that differing opinion into account.

Returning to brainstorming techniques can be helpful when considering this kind of feedback, as it will help you think about and possibly incorporate new points, ideas, and criticism more effectively. Feedback on style is common for student writers, but don't worry. This is part of the process all writers go through when finding their individual voice and style. Feedback on technical details, however, can usually be responded to quickly and generally doesn't require much in the way of intellectual work from the writer. It's often a good idea to save this kind of feedback for last, during the editing or proofreading stages of the writing process.

It's also important to remember that you can ask for clarification from your reviewer, or even to seek out another opinion on your writing or on the reviewer's comments. And once you've incorporated changes into your essay, go through it again with the reviewer's comments in mind, asking whether or how you've addressed their concerns, questions, or suggestions that were raised.

Let's take a look at a portion of an early draft of an essay. Read along with me and be on the lookout for problems-- not just grammatical issues and the like, but also structural or thematic problems, the big picture concerns. We'll get to see some of my feedback for it, but as we read, start to think about your own response to this paragraph. If you were going to critique it, what would you ask the writer and what suggestions would you have?

"John Stuart Mill believed that scientific knowledge was essential for a modern educated human. It was his belief that scientific reasoning teaches people to question the world around them, and to never take anything for granted. I think the idea was to train students to properly use their instruments. I generally agree with John Stuart Mill, at least on the general ideas he hit on. I don't think that we should all have to learn Latin and Greek, but I do agree on his statements about learning second languages and the cultures involved."

As you can see, this paragraph is a little rough, and it could use some good constructive criticism. Here's an approximation of the kind of notes I might leave on a text like this. As you can see, I've made comments not only on grammar and typos, but I'm also asking questions about how the ideas work together, even going so far as to ask how it seems to be the conclusion of the paragraph connects to its main idea.

Obviously, since we don't have the entire essay to work with, it's hard to critique the ways this text works with its thesis or big picture. But I can see some problems with how this paragraph is moving, and so I raised them. Now, here's a revised paragraph. I won't read it all the way through, but if you'd like, pause the video and check out.

As you can see from even a cursory glance, I switched roles and become the writer here. And as such, I've taken into account the feedback I received, not only fixing typos, but also making some pretty broad changes to how the paragraph develops its ideas. It's now working a little more effectively to demonstrate its point about science learning. And the tone, if you didn't notice, is more traditionally academic now.

As you can see, feedback, even simulated feedback like this, can help writers by providing a different perspective on their text and the effect it will have on the intended audience. It's a huge advantage, one that we're all now a little better suited to make use of.

What did we learn today? We learned about how to revise using outside feedback, including a quick look at the situations in which feedback is received, tips on how to respond to it, and one example of a text before, during, and after its critique. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.