When I teach about feedback in my technical writing webinars, I often quote these words of Frank Norris*: “I hate to write, but I like to have written.”* I would slightly reframe this comment: “I hate to receive feedback about my writing, but I like to have received that feedback.”
Why would I want to receive comments, even criticism, about my writing? It’s because I know that writing happens between my brain and my keyboard, without the benefit of real-world feedback from readers such as:
- What confuses them?
- What delights them?
- What else do they need that I haven’t supplied?
Good reviewers offer “I like” and “I wish” feedback:
- I like your graphic on page 2.
- I like your sentence length throughout.
- I like your explanation of __________________.
- I wish that you had presented this data in a table.
- I wish that you had provided a summary at the beginning.
- I wish I could visualize this process better.
Because “I likes” and “I wishes” help me as an author, I teach this practice in my technical writing webinars. All writers crave positive comments but need constructive suggestions.
Most “I wish” comments are helpful, but every now and then, I find a suggestion that I can’t implement. For example, I recently asked three colleagues to review the manuscript for my next book, Webinar School™. One reviewer offered excellent suggestions (for example, combine Chapters 1 and 2). Done! However, she requested more examples of low-tech tips for interactivity. “Really?” I muttered. “Nine extended examples in 3.5 manuscript pages isn’t enough?”
Take what you like and leave the rest. This advice offers us a sense of autonomy over our writing. However, please consider: If your boss suggests changes in your text, comply if possible. Your job may depend on accepting that feedback.
*Frank Norris, American novelist, 1870-1902