7 Steps to Giving Great Feedback


—Bite-sized advice for better business writing—

June 17, 2020 

7 Steps to Giving Great Feedback

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

—Ken Blanchard

As an eTips subscriber, you actively work to improve your own writing and may even need to help coworkers improve theirs. That’s an honor, but also a responsibility. Your feedback should simultaneously strengthen the writing and build trust with the writer.

How can I provide effective feedback?

Effective feedback is on-target, specific, and supportive. To provide it, follow these tips:

1. Review the writing task. Learn what the subject, purpose, and audience are for the writing in question. Read the work twice or three times, preferably away from the writer.

2. Connect with the writer. Let the person know that you are on the same side with the same goal—producing the most effective piece of writing. Remind them that revision is a part of any writing project—perhaps the most impactful part.

3. Focus first on positives. Doing so creates a cooperative environment. Also, if you’ve praised one part, the writer will be more willing to listen when you criticize another part.

Don't Say: The opening is no good.

Do Say: The ideas in the middle are critical. Let's make sure the opening sums up those ideas for the reader.

4. Focus on the writing, not on the writer. Talk about the ideas, organization, voice, words, and sentences.

Don't Say: You have a problem right at the start.

Do Say: Let’s think of a way to capture the reader’s attention right at the start.

5. Use pronouns carefully. Avoid using you or your when discussing problems because these pronouns can sound accusatory. Instead, use we, us, and our to show that you are on the writer's side.

Don't Say: You’re constantly writing in the passive voice.

Do Say: If we make these sentences active, we could really energize the writing.

6. State negatives in positive terms. Build on what is good. Focus on solutions rather than problems, on strategies rather than issues.

Don't Say: The closing is horrible.

Do Say: The middle has so much great information. In the closing, let's give a clear call to action so that readers know what to do with it.

Don't Say: What a mess! I can’t figure out what you are doing here.

Do Say: What’s the most important idea to get across here?

7. Be specific. Let the writer know exactly what is and isn’t working.

Don't Say: Good job on revising the opening. That’s really good. Good work.

Do Say: The new opening really captures my attention and leads cleanly into the middle section.

Sharpen Your Management Writing

The tips above and the activity that follows come from Executive Writing, an asynchronous online writing course from Write for Business. Managers use Executive Writing to sharpen their writing and earn continuing education credit.



Play the Editor!

Imagine that you are reviewing the following email for Melissa St. James, who is in Human Resources. She wants feedback before sending it to Randall Poole. Read the email a couple of times and then respond to the prompts below:

To: Randall Poole
Subject: Update on New-Employee Orientation Process
Attach: OrientationCheck.docx

I’ve developed a new checklist by combining two forms into one and by adding several items. The new form is attached. I’ve high lighted additions.

And I fine-tuned the orientation procedure to work with the new form. From now on, HR will enclose this checklist in each new employee’s orientation packet. Then Rebecca will cover items one threw six during her new-employee presentation. Next, the employees supervisor will affirm that the employee gets items one through six, and then cover the remainder of the items left. Following, the supervisor will fill out the performance reviews on the reverse side of the form following this schedule: after day one, when week one is done, also week two, and 30 days. Finally, after the final review, the supervisor and the new employee will sign the form, the form will be returned to HR by the supervisor.

I would appreciate it if you’d look at the attached form and consider the procedure outlined above. With you’re approval, we will present this information to area supervisors at their next meeting.


  1. Write a sentence or two that you could say to Melissa St. James to connect with her before discussing the email.
  2. Write a sentence or two that focuses on the positive parts of the email. Talk about the writing, not Melissa.
  3. Write a few more sentences that state negatives in a positive way. Give specific strategies to help Melissa improve the email. (Focus on ideas, organization, and voice.)
  4. Finally, correct any errors you find. (Focus on words and sentences.)

Get More Support

Check out the Write for Business Guide and past eTips for revision strategies and solutions.


Editor’s Recommendations

1. Your first job in responding to Melissa is to let her know you are on her side. By naming something positive up front and affirming your common goal for the material, you can do just that. Here is one possible approach:

The new-employee orientation process sounds very thorough. Obviously, what we want to accomplish here is to get Mr. Poole’s approval of the process. I think with a few adjustments, this email will do just that.

2. Start your review by focusing on the positive—what is working as a basis for discussing what can work better. Here's one possible approach:

To start with, this message has a great deal of information. The middle paragraph, especially, contains many important details. And I think the call to action at the end is very clear.

3. Having established a working relationship with Melissa, you can now provide specific, constructive suggestions for improvement. Note how the following sample response focuses on how she can revise for ideas, organization, and voice:

To call out that information in the middle paragraph, how about if we turn it into a numbered list? The sentences starting with “From now on” and “Then” and “Next” and “Following” are already in time order, so if we just put some numbers in there, the details would stand out. Also, since the call to action at the end is so strong, I think you need something similar at the beginning. Let Mr. Poole know just why you are writing and what you want him to do. Adding a “Dear Mr. Poole” or “Hi Randall” or whatever would also welcome him into the email.

4. Now that you’ve helped Melissa make major improvements, you can focus on little errors with words and sentences. If you jumped on these issues first, you might never fix the big issues.

In the first paragraph, let’s close up the space in “highlighted.” In the second paragraph, let’s change “threw” to the correct form, “through.” Also in the second paragraph, let’s get rid of the repetition of “Following” and “following” as well as “Finally” and “final” and “form” and “form.” We should also revise “after day one, when week one is done, also week two, and 30 days” to make it parallel in structure: “after the first week, the second week, the third week, and the first month.” Then, in the last paragraph, we need to change “you’re” to “your.”