How to Give Freelance Writers Criticism That Is Actually Constructive

No one enjoys getting — or giving — negative feedback. Freelance writer Nicki Escudero explains how to give your freelancers feedback that's helpful to both of you and maintains a good working relationship.

Good freelance writers dedicate hours to researching and writing content they think will capture your brand and help drive sales. As an editor, delivering the news that the piece isn’t quite working can be uncomfortable. What if the writer doesn’t understand what you’re looking for? What if the whole thing runs past deadline? What if they give up on writing any more for you altogether, and you have to find a new freelancer?

writer feedbackThe editing/feedback process is a delicate balance of give and take, and emotions are unavoidable. To ensure a solid relationship that doesn’t crumble because of criticism, your feedback must be to-the-point and focused on the work, not the person.

As a writer and editor who has been on both sides of the fence, I can relate to the sometimes daunting task of having to deliver and receive feedback that isn’t as simple as, “This is good to go, we’re publishing as-is.” I’ve felt the pain of hearing, “It’s good, but it’s not exactly what I’m looking for. Could you work on it more and revise it?”, with no further details. If you need a substantial revision from a writer, here’s how to give feedback that gets back better copy back and improves the likelihood that their next assignment hits the mark.

Consider your own role in the mistakes

If your writer missed the mark on an assignment, you should first ask yourself if you provided them with clear-enough instructions.

  • Did you give a fully fleshed-out concept?
  • Did you make yourself available for questions throughout the assignment?
  • Did you give them resources and examples of tone and voice at the time of the assignment?

Visit our blog for more on how to create a concept for a stellar piece of content, including a downloadable and printable template.

If you can acknowledge any mistakes you may have made in the process through being unclear or sparse with the instructions you’ve given, that is something to note when you give the feedback. The writer won’t feel unfairly criticized, and they’ll be more likely to be willing to work to get to a better end product you appreciate.

Be specific in your feedback

Just like you should be specific when you give out the actual assignment, providing detailed, clear feedback is vital to help your writer. According to an informal survey published by the Freelancers Union, one of the top three biggest complaints of freelancers is vague or unhelpful feedback. Lacking clarity will cause more headaches during the revision process, adding more time for both the writer and for the editor when more revisions are required.

Think like a writer when giving feedback. For example:

  • Be descriptive — don’t just say you want a different tone, use adjectives that capture that tone you want.
  • Rewrite a sentence in the story to show what you mean.
  • Provide an example of a post with the tone you want.
  • Point out something in the story that does convey what you want, so the writer can go more in that same direction.

Focus on helping your writer

If you want to get more efficient, effective edits, your approach when giving constructive criticism should be aligned with bringing out the best in your writer, not just telling them what they did wrong. To make your approach more about helping and less about criticizing, use these techniques:

  • Think about how your feedback can help the writer grow. Instead of just aiming to fix the one assignment, look for broader learning opportunities that can help all future assignments improve, recommends Psychology Today.
  • Focus on the assignment, not the writer. Do not personally attack the writer or their skills. Instead, solely pinpoint examples within the assignment that can be improved. Tearing apart their writing techniques can make them feel defeated or like they never want to work for you again.
  • Reinforce the positives. When giving your critique, if there were aspects of the assignment that were in the style of what you’re looking for, point those out. A survey by Gallup found 67 percent of employees were more engaged at work when a manager focused on strengths and positive characteristics. By including praise amid the criticism, you can keep the writer motivated and driven to produce more and better work for you.Gallup found 67 percent of employees were more engaged at work when a manager focused on strengths and positive characteristics.

Be available during the revision process, so the writer can ask you any follow-up questions regarding the feedback you’ve given. Then, on the next story assignment, be as clear and strategic as possible in your concept. Continue to focus on positives as much as possible, and the writer will be more likely to thrive and enjoy having you as an editor and even look forward to that negative feedback as a way to develop and grow their skills.

Tags: content marketing, freelancers, managing

Category: Editing

About Nicki

Nicki Escudero is a journalist, marketing copywriter, editor and social media strategist with more than 14 years of experience. She is a regular contributor to the ClearVoice blog who writes for hundreds of brands in worldwide markets. Follow her on Twitter.

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