Thursday, September 19, 2013

How to Make the Most out of (Constructive)* Critical Feedback - 7 Tips

Academic writing is hard work.  There is no way around it.  And making the most out of the feedback you receive from a professor or a peer can seem even more difficult than cranking out that first draft.  Here are 7 tips for how to utilize the blessing and the curse that is critical feedback. 

Tip #1 – Don’t reply right away to your critic.  Writing is an emotional enterprise.  When our written work it criticized – however validly – it can be painful.  And, you might feel angry about it.  So take some time to cool down before you respond.  99.9% of the replies that you will write too soon after reading your feedback will sound a little defensive at best and crazed-from-too-much-coffee-and-not-enough-sleep at worst.  The only reply that you should make within the first 24 hours of receiving feedback should be something like, “Thank you very much for your feedback.”

Tip #2 – Read all comments and criticisms with this question in mind: how will this feedback help me strengthen my argument?  Remember that academic writing isn’t as much about creating beautiful prose (although that is a worthy goal and the best of the best do both) as it is about persuading your audience with solid evidence and skillful argumentation.  Not all feedback will aid you in this task.  Asking yourself how each question, comment, or snarky aside will build up your argument will allow you filter, prioritize, and use feedback wisely.

Tip #3 – Read critiques more than once.  There is a good chance that your first read-through will be clouded by your own anxiety and frustration with the writing process.  Give yourself some time (a few days, a few hours) after your first read-through and then go over each comment again.  You may see some things you missed and you might be encouraged that the feedback was not as bad as you thought it was the first time around.

Tip #4 – Try to summarize the overall point that your critic is making in your own words.  This will allow you to understand a) your reader’s approach to your work and b) where your thesis needs clarification.

Tip #5 – Get a second opinion – or even a third!  Every critic sees things from their particular perspective (see Tip #4).  Consult others in your field (or a related discipline) and see what they have to say about your project.  Also, additional voices can help you solve logical or evidential problems in your work. 

Tip #6 – Take a break from writing and have some fun.  Taking time away from your work can seem like a waste – especially when you have deadlines looming.  But nothing stymies creative problem-solving like obsessing over your work and neglecting your rest and relaxation.  So spend some time with friends.  Hug a family member.  Eat and drink good food and beverages.  Sleep!  Do something that will relax your brain cells and refresh your problem-solving skills.**

Tip #7– Congratulate yourself – you are a part of a community!  Submitting your work to peer and/or professorial review means that you are a part of something that is bigger than your individual thoughts and opinions.  Blogs are great, but anyone can create one (for example, this blog!).  By agreeing to have your work evaluated by others through the academic process, you are joining a worldwide, multi-generational quest for knowledge.  Congratulations!

*This post assumes that you have a helpful, constructive critic.  Of course every now and then you’ll have a critic who uses ad hominem attacks or other such logical fallacies.  If that is the case, please disregard.   
**Facebook, blogs, twitter, etc. do not count as a break.  Step away from the computer/smart phone – step away!!!


Paula Hampton said...

Great tips, Leah! I'm sharing on the Dept Facebook page...

Leah said...

Thanks, Paula!