How to Use (and Not Use!) Feedback

Accepting feedback on your writing can be difficult. Your writing represents your hard work and your thinking. Hearing someone else’s suggestions for improving it can feel like personal criticism. But it is important not to take criticism of your draft personally. Remember, everyone’s goal is to help you produce the best possible essay you can in the allotted time, with the resources you have at your disposal.

With that in mind, approach your feedback with the following rules of thumb:

Do not revise your essay only to fix errors or address specific recommendations in the comments.

Instead, take the opportunity to consider the implications of the feedback for your global and local purposes of your essay. Changes that you make in one place will cascade throughout your essay. New or more complicated ideas will require further revision elsewhere in the essay.

Do not avoid the hard complicated rethinking that some comments ask you to do by simply cutting the paragraph to which it refers.

Instead, see those comments as an indication that you are on to a good idea, but that it needs complication, development, further elaboration and exploration, and maybe some concrete examples to work with.

Do not try to address conceptual or complicating comments by changing only a word or two, or adding a few sentences.

Instead, think about the complications and redevelop the whole paragraph (or section) to accommodate your richer conception of your ideas.

Do not keep the structure of your draft intact.

This structure is an artifact of its being an idea-generating draft, and cannot support the more complex argument you are trying to make in your revision. Instead, construct a new pattern of organization based on the needs of your reader as he or she tries to make sense of your argument.

Do not avoid cutting words, paragraphs, or sections that are not useful to your reader just because they “sound” good to you, or because you worked hard to write them.

Instead, use the comprehension needs of your reader as the major criteria for inclusion or exclusion. You can always generate more words fairly rapidly. So do not fall in love with already-written words for the sake of meeting the word count.

Do not consider uncommented-on text as error-free, interesting, final, or untouchable.

Consider what work any piece of text does for you and your reader. Evaluate even uncommented-on text for its utility.

Do not mistake “tweaking” your draft for real revision.

You can recognize that you have “tweaked” your draft rather than revised it if:

(a) the vast majority of your changes were additions, especially additions of three lines or less;
(b) you looked at your reviewer’s comments and tried to resolve the comment by qualifying individual sentences or words in an attempt to “fix” the “problem”;
(c) your primary motivation was to save your sentences and basic ideas rather than considering the comment as a push to rethink your assumptions and ideas; or
(d) you could not bring yourself to cut whole paragraphs or to interrupt the original flow of your first draft.

Ultimately, you’re responsible for the content of your paper. It’s up to you to consider the value of the feedback that you’re getting. Don’t make changes mindlessly; instead, be thoughtful about how the changes you’re making contribute to your paper’s meaning, persuasiveness, and readability.

A revision checklist has been included below to help you decide whether your revised draft – from title to conclusion – is complete.

Revision Checklist

  • Does your title help readers understand the relationship among key content in your essay, and inspire them to read on?
  • Does your essay have a purpose that the reader can clearly identify in the early stages of reading?
  • Does your introduction meet the need of your reader to be oriented to the field of the discussion?
  • Does your introduction narrow the field of discussion to an aspect that is particularly relevant to your specific reader?
  • Is there a clearly recognizable thesis or controlling question in your introduction?
  • Do your body paragraphs lead readers through a well-planned, coherent series of claims, examples, and passages toward a conclusion?
  • Can you identify the local purposes each body paragraph serves in your paper?
  • Do your body paragraphs acknowledge complications and ambivalence, and make them part of a productive experience for your reader?
  • Are examples and data offered in support of claims? Does your reader know what point you mean an example to exemplify? Does your reader know what you mean the data you present to mean?
  • Are key concepts defined and elaborated on such that a reader could understand how to use them in another setting?
  • Do your body paragraphs use well-chosen passages from your sources—not just to “back up” your points, but to serve as jumping off points to enable your reader to think for her- or himself?
  • Have you set up, presented (in sufficient detail), analyzed, and followed up every quota on and paraphrase you use?
  • Does your conclusion follow from the ideas, examples, and discussion presented in the body of the paper?
  • Does your conclusion explore the implications of the ideas, examples, and discussion presented in the body of the paper for the reader?