Responding to a draft? Put it in writing.


If I’m writing a document for you, you probably want to tell me what you thought of my draft.

You could edit it with markup software. You could write me a note about it. You could forget to turn on the markup and just edit — don’t worry, I have tools that allow me to see where you made changes.

You could even print out the document and scrawl on it with a pen, although I’d prefer you didn’t.

But don’t just call me talk about it. You can call me after you’ve written down your thoughts, but please write down your perspective first.

12 reasons why you should write down your feedback

  1. You can write comments when it’s convenient for you, I can review your feedback when it’s convenient for me. No scheduling issues.
  2. It’s faster for you to write a few things down than spend time on the phone. It’s faster for me to review them in writing. We both save time.
  3. Written feedback is far less subject to misinterpretation. I might miss or misunderstand something you say out loud, but if it’s written down, I can check it and make sure.
  4. You can go through the draft and add your comments in any order you want. But I can review them from the beginning to the end, which is how writers usually think.
  5. If you want to cite a source, you can just include the URL.
  6. If you want to include or suggest text from somewhere else, you can just copy it and paste it into a comment, or into the document itself.
  7. I can review your comments along with comments from other reviewers. I can put everybody’s marked-up copy on my screen at once and seek a way to satisfy all of you.
  8. When you write comments down, you have to think a bit about what you really mean and what you really want to say. That thinking will cause you to write better, more carefully considered feedback.
  9. I won’t judge the grammar, spelling, or even logic of your feedback. I’ll just see it and act on it. I don’t really care if you can’t match subject and verb tenses, that’s my job.
  10. On the other hand, if you are holding contradictory ideas in your head, it’s a lot easier for me to spot that in your written comments and ask you about it. (People say contradictory things out loud all the time and both they and their listeners may not even realize it.)
  11. I won’t get offended by your written feedback — even if if I feel resentful, I’ll get over it quickly and move to editing and responding. But if you say something offensive in a conversation, I might respond emotionally in the moment, and we’ll both regret it (and the document won’t benefit).
  12. It’s more respectful to respond to a writer in writing — it shows we’re both committed to words on the page.

And no, creating a recording and transcript of our conversation isn’t a substitute. Reviewing the transcript is just as imprecise — and much more time consuming — than responding to written comments.

The cost of oral feedback

If you insist on providing feedback in conversation rather than in writing, you’ll pay for it. I’ll charge you extra based on the amount of my time it will take up, and the number of additional drafts it will take to get your ideas on the page. It’s inefficient, and I hate inefficiency.

I’m not against meetings. They’re great for brainstorming. They’re helpful for me to understand what written voice will capture your attitude. They’re good for resolving different perspectives. And they’re helpful to reinforce your written comments after you’ve written them down. But they’re no substitute for written feedback.

Learn to use the commenting and editing features of Word or Google Docs (Suggesting mode). Even if somebody else is doing the writing, you ought to do that much. Because it will save you time and money, and make it far more agreeable to work with you.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.