how to give your content writer feedback

Think about content creation like a 4×400-meter relay race. Your agency or freelance writer will carry the baton for the first three laps around the track — researching, interviewing, writing — but will pass it off to you for the last lap: Editing.

Editing is the final, and arguably the most important, leg of the content creation relay. Your feedback will take content from “almost-there” to “I-can’t-wait-to-publish-this.”

The feedback you give will also lay the foundation for your ongoing relationship with this writer. Any writer worth the ink in their pen will document your preferences to reference when writing all future content pieces — so the longer you work with them, the less time you’ll spend wielding a red pen.

I’m going to give you a crash course on how to deliver feedback that establishes a good client-writer relationship and ultimately results in better content.

Don’t make any changes before reading the whole thing

Read through the whole article before unsheathing your red pen. That way you don’t spend five precious minutes writing out a comment about how important it is to include a detailed description of Tier 4 emission control technologies. And when you get to the next paragraph, you see … a detailed description of the Tier 4 emission control technologies.

On your next read-through, start making notes about:

  • Phrases or words you especially like (or dislike)
  • Any technical inaccuracies you notice
  • Overarching edits like flow, tone and structure

And as you do, make sure your comments are honest, specific and respectful.

Be honest about what you don’t like …

Personally, I’m never looking for an “atta boy” when I pass an article off to a client. I’m looking to get it 100% right. And while I can get it to 95% on my own, I need honest client feedback to take it through the finish line.

You need to take editing seriously, only giving the green light on articles, white papers and case studies that are technically accurate and match your desired tone. If anything at all isn’t up to your standards, your writer needs to hear about it.

You’re not doing anyone any favors — least of all yourself — by giving an article a cursory glance before approving it or, worse, avoiding giving your writer negative feedback.

If your writer is anything like me, they’ll treat all edits, client preferences and approved copy as a working encyclopedia of your brand and business. Giving honest feedback is insurance against stuff you dislike (tone that’s off, technical inaccuracy, etc.) cropping up in future content pieces.

… but tell your writer when you like something, too

Not to stroke their egos — but to give them a better idea of your preferences. Often, edits are about what we should change. Telling your writer when something’s good lets them know what to keep doing as they write more content for your brand. Plus, it’s never bad practice to balance negative feedback with positive.

When delivering feedback, deal in specifics

If something’s technically inaccurate, tell your writer what specifically needs to change. If you dislike the tone, give them examples of articles that achieve the tone you’re going for. Doing so allows them to come back with a second draft that makes you say, “Exactly. They get it.”

Before you hand your edits back to your writer or agency, look for vague comments like …

  • “This is the wrong tone for our brand.”
  • “I don’t like this.”
  • “Something feels off.”

… and make them more specific.

“This is the wrong tone for our brand,” for instance, could be made more specific (and therefore more useful) by changing it to, “The tone is off here — I’d prefer something more conversational. I’ve marked the words that are a little too formal.”

Vague comments leave too much room for interpretation. Specific comments allow your writer to get to the root of what, exactly, you don’t like, and make sure it gets cut in the second draft.

Whenever you make an edit, explain why

This is the cardinal rule of editing, in my opinion.

If you only tell your writer what’s wrong, or what word you dislike, they can only incorporate that edit in this piece. If you tell them why it’s wrong, they can apply the same logic to other situations in the future — saving you time in the long run.

If, for example, you tell me to remove the last sentence in paragraph 2, I’ll happily oblige.

But if you tell me you’d like it removed because it explains something your target audience already knows, then I won’t waste valuable real estate on that topic in future pieces. This means you’ll have one less edit on the next piece I turn in and, more importantly, I’ll have a greater understanding of your audience and industry.

Your writer must turn in a solid first draft, but they aren’t solely responsible for the quality of your brand’s content. It’s on you, too. Arm them with the information they need to make each piece they write better than the last. Do it by explaining the “why” behind each of your edits.

When in doubt, pick up the phone

Whether it’s to discuss a bigger edit, or to talk through a concept, writers are almost always receptive to more explanation. And phone conversations invariably result in fewer miscommunications than long emails.

How to transform your feedback

I want to give you a few tangible examples of how to transform incomplete feedback into the type of feedback that will get you better content and build a good relationship with your content writer.

Feedback example 1

Instead of saying, “This isn’t the right tone for our brand,” try saying something like, “The tone is off in this article — we’d really prefer more of a conversational tone for our brand. I’ve marked the words and phrases that are a little too formal.”

Feedback example 2

Instead of quietly marking the Oxford comma throughout an article, say something like, “Let’s use the Oxford comma in all copy for our brand. Can we add that in throughout this piece, and moving forward?”

Feedback example 3

Instead of giving prescriptive feedback like, “Remove the last sentence in paragraph 4,” try offering more context. Say something along the lines of, “Remove the last sentence in paragraph 4. It’s not something our clients would be concerned about knowing because [X].”

Feedback example 4

Instead of giving a vague comment like, “Something’s off in this section,” give your writer an idea of what you’d like to see in the second draft. Say something like, “Is there any way to rephrase the third paragraph to more clearly communicate [X], [Y] and [Z]?”

Feedback example 5

Let’s say you’re displeased with a section of the article — it mischaracterizes a major concept in your industry. Don’t avoid giving negative feedback. Say something like, “I’m not sure you quite understand this topic. Instead of [X], it’s really more [Y]. Why don’t we hop on a call and I’ll walk you through it?”

After you send off your edits …

Remember that it’s a two-way conversation.

Sometimes, your writer will disagree with an edit or two. It’s not out of malice. We’re professional wordsmiths who’ve published hundreds of pieces and written millions of words in drafts (not exaggerating). Our job is to develop clear, compelling, accurate content that resonates with your audience, addresses their challenges and meets your strategic objectives. To get it right, sometimes we get tough.

Giving good feedback is how you get better content

You and your writer are on the same team — you both want to create incredible content for your company.

By giving better feedback, you’ll lay the foundation for a strong client-writer relationship. One where you’re comfortable giving very honest feedback about their work. One where, by the time you’ve worked together awhile, you shouldn’t have to give much feedback at all.