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Nine Tips to Productive Revision

Nine Tips to Productive Revision
Revision

Without a doubt, revision is the most tedious, irritating, necessary task involved in writing well. The act of taking a finished piece of work, tearing it apart, and rebuilding it is a process that some writers think waste too much time to be worth the process. Nevertheless, writing a piece perfectly on the first try is an extremely rare occasion.

Rather than worrying about whether or not revision is necessary, it makes more sense to focusing on making revision as painless and as useful as possible. Here are a few tips for you to keep in mind while writing.

Try to get what you’ve written on paper. Scanning a piece on a computer makes revision extremely difficult, even though it may seem like the more sensible process. By printing out your computer work, you’re able to get more hands-on with your writing process. For most people, it’s also much easier to look at what you’ve written on paper rather than on a screen. Things you might not be able to see on your computer can show up when you’re marking your piece up with paper and pencil.

Start from the beginning. Many people skip around while they’re editing, going after passages they knew were bad when they were writing. In terms of improving your work, however, it makes far more sense to start at the top and going through your piece line by line. Things you thought were brilliant when you started writing might be too overblown, or might not fit in with the rest of your piece. You can’t tell what you might find in your drafts until you read them over. Why risk skipping anything?

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Save all your drafts. Not every revision is going to be perfect. Often, you’ll find you get rid of bits and pieces you need later on, or you’ll realize that something you wrote earlier on is better than you expected. In that case, you’ll find that it’s easier to look back if you actually have your old work, rather than if you’re forced to write from memory. If you’re printing out your old drafts already, keeping them together with a paper clip (or, if you revise a lot, a binder clip) is a small step that could save you lots of time later on.

The software you are writing on can help with this immensely. Google Docs and Spreadsheets, for instance, immediately saves all old drafts of your work, which can make revision a far faster process than it usually is.

Avoid clichés. When you’re first writing a piece, it’s entirely possible that some hackneyed phrases might find their way into your writing. When you’re revising, it would be wise to remove as many of these as possible. The reason? Clichés are too often-used to be effective, especially when you don’t know your audience. They work very well, which is why they are used so much. When you avoid clichés, though, your work is more likely to sound unique and interesting than if it’s filled with old, boring writing techniques.

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Feel free to experiment. The poet Robert Hayden, former poet laureate of the United States, would alter a poem drastically from its original style in the process of writing. Over dozens of revisions, his poems would change from several lines to full pages to several lines again. Monet’s Waterlilies, one of his better-known poems (it can be found here), was preceded by drafts that looked almost nothing like the final version. Some were more condensed. Some had fewer line breaks. All of them contributed to his final piece.

Don’t fret too much over changing the layout of your piece as you write it. Try adding sections you never had to begin with. Remove paragraphs you don’t want to worry about. The greatest thing about revision is this: if you don’t like what you’ve done with your writing, you can always change it back. And even if you write things you end up not using, everything you consider using will affect your final piece. If you worry too much over preserving your original writing, you won’t be able to write as freely as you need to.

Don’t cherish anything. The worst thing you can do as a writer is to love your writing too much. It constrains you, forces you to do things to go around changing that piece. While loving your own work like this isn’t a bad thing, it can lead you to losing sight of what you’re actually trying to write. Is that one sentence you love really contributing to the piece you’re writing? Could it be reworded to make it more compact? While you may love everything you write, liking it too much risks making it difficult to improve.

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Rewrite if necessary. Sometimes, the piece you’re working on needs a complete rewrite. Quite a few writers shy away from this aspect of revision, but it is often more useful to scrap what you have, and rewrite the entire piece line-for-line, than it is to try and revise a lousy draft of your work.

What you need to remember when you’re wondering whether or not a rewrite is desirable is this: writing something you have already written is far easier to write than something you’ve never written before. You’ve already churned out a draft of this: you know what to put in it and how to lay things out. While it might seem tedious, you’ll find that most of the time, rewriting is much faster than the original writing. And it is often easier to rewrite a piece than it is to go over the piece, line for line, and slowly change it into something you can work with.

Wait before showing anybody. Don’t show everybody around you your original draft when you’re planning revision. Until you feel you can’t improve on your work any farther, there’s no reason to give somebody else what you’re written. Take the time to go over it yourself, and revise until you think your work is at least fairly solid.

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The benefits to doing this are threefold. First, you will find it much easier to take comments from multiple people and incorporate them all into your revision if each person is editing as few things as possible. Second, more people will be willing to really read something of yours over if they’re pretty sure you’re not asking them to rewrite your entire piece for you. Finally, some people who read unfinished writing like rewriting entire pieces. Give them too much room to work in, and you risk ending with something written by somebody else. (Note to high-schoolers and college students: sure, this might sound appealing to you. But it’s a bad thing to do, and you should all be ashamed of yourselves.)

No work is ever perfect. Unless what you’re writing is really important to you (i.e., if you’re trying to publish something you write), don’t worry too much over how perfect your final piece is. Every writer has limits, and every time you go to revise a piece, you will probably be able to find something that needs fixing, something that can be improved. To some degree, this will help you improve your writing and make it far more worth reading. Take it too far, though, and you risk spending too much time on an individual piece of work. It might do you well to focus on writing new things, rather than focusing on one piece obsessively for too long.

Rory Marinich is a graduate of the New Jersey Governor’s School of the Arts. Some of his writing can be found online here.

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Last Updated on December 4, 2020

How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

We all crave constructive feedback. We want to know not just what we’re doing well but also what we could be doing better.

However, giving and getting constructive feedback isn’t just some feel-good exercise. In the workplace, it’s part and parcel of how companies grow.

Let’s take a closer look.

Why Constructive Feedback Is Critical

A culture of feedback benefits individuals on a team and the team itself. Constructive feedback has the following effects:

Builds Workers’ Skills

Think about the last time you made a mistake. Did you come away from it feeling attacked—a key marker of destructive feedback—or did you feel like you learned something new?

Every time a team member learns something, they become more valuable to the business. The range of tasks they can tackle increases. Over time, they make fewer mistakes, require less supervision, and become more willing to ask for help.

Boosts Employee Loyalty

Constructive feedback is a two-way street. Employees want to receive it, but they also want the feedback they give to be taken seriously.

If employees see their constructive feedback ignored, they may take it to mean they aren’t a valued part of the team. Nine in ten employees say they’d be more likely to stick with a company that takes and acts on their feedback.[1]

Strengthens Team Bonds

Without trust, teams cannot function. Constructive feedback builds trust because it shows that the giver of the feedback cares about the success of the recipient.

However, for constructive feedback to work its magic, both sides have to assume good intentions. Those giving the feedback must genuinely want to help, and those getting it has to assume that the goal is to build them up rather than to tear them down.

Promotes Mentorship

There’s nothing wrong with a single round of constructive feedback. But when it really makes a difference is when it’s repeated—continuous, constructive feedback is the bread and butter of mentorship.

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Be the change you want to see on your team. Give constructive feedback often and authentically, and others will naturally start to see you as a mentor.

Clearly, constructive feedback is something most teams could use more of. But how do you actually give it?

How to Give Constructive Feedback

Giving constructive feedback is tricky. Get it wrong, and your message might fall on deaf ears. Get it really wrong, and you could sow distrust or create tension across the entire team.

Here are ways to give constructive feedback properly:

1. Listen First

Often, what you perceive as a mistake is a decision someone made for a good reason. Listening is the key to effective communication.

Seek to understand: how did the other person arrive at her choice or action?

You could say:

  • “Help me understand your thought process.”
  • “What led you to take that step?”
  • “What’s your perspective?”

2. Lead With a Compliment

In school, you might have heard it called the “sandwich method”: Before (and ideally, after) giving difficult feedback, share a compliment. That signals to the recipient that you value their work.

You could say:

  • “Great design. Can we see it with a different font?”
  • “Good thinking. What if we tried this?”

3. Address the Wider Team

Sometimes, constructive feedback is best given indirectly. If your comment could benefit others on the team, or if the person whom you’re really speaking to might take it the wrong way, try communicating your feedback in a group setting.

You could say:

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  • “Let’s think through this together.”
  • “I want everyone to see . . .”

4. Ask How You Can Help

When you’re on a team, you’re all in it together. When a mistake happens, you have to realize that everyone—not just the person who made it—has a role in fixing it. Give constructive feedback in a way that recognizes this dynamic.

You could say:

  • “What can I do to support you?”
  • “How can I make your life easier?
  • “Is there something I could do better?”

5. Give Examples

To be useful, constructive feedback needs to be concrete. Illustrate your advice by pointing to an ideal.

What should the end result look like? Who has the process down pat?

You could say:

  • “I wanted to show you . . .”
  • “This is what I’d like yours to look like.”
  • “This is a perfect example.”
  • “My ideal is . . .”

6. Be Empathetic

Even when there’s trust in a team, mistakes can be embarrassing. Lessons can be hard to swallow. Constructive feedback is more likely to be taken to heart when it’s accompanied by empathy.

You could say:

  • “I know it’s hard to hear.”
  • “I understand.”
  • “I’m sorry.”

7. Smile

Management consultancies like Credera teach that communication is a combination of the content, delivery, and presentation.[2] When giving constructive feedback, make sure your body language is as positive as your message. Your smile is one of your best tools for getting constructive feedback to connect.

8. Be Grateful

When you’re frustrated about a mistake, it can be tough to see the silver lining. But you don’t have to look that hard. Every constructive feedback session is a chance for the team to get better and grow closer.

You could say:

  • “I’m glad you brought this up.”
  • “We all learned an important lesson.”
  • “I love improving as a team.”

9. Avoid Accusations

Giving tough feedback without losing your cool is one of the toughest parts of working with others. Great leaders and project managers get upset at the mistake, not the person who made it.[3]

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You could say:

  • “We all make mistakes.”
  • “I know you did your best.”
  • “I don’t hold it against you.”

10. Take Responsibility

More often than not, mistakes are made because of miscommunications Recognize your own role in them.

Could you have been clearer in your directions? Did you set the other person up for success?

You could say:

  • “I should have . . .”
  • “Next time, I’ll . . .”

11. Time it Right

Constructive feedback shouldn’t catch people off guard. Don’t give it while everyone is packing up to leave work. Don’t interrupt a good lunch conversation.

If in doubt, ask the person to whom you’re giving feedback to schedule the session themselves. Encourage them to choose a time when they’ll be able to focus on the conversation rather than their next task.

12. Use Their Name

When you hear your name, your ears naturally perk up. Use that when giving constructive feedback. Just remember that constructive feedback should be personalized, not personal.

You could say:

  • “Bob, I wanted to chat through . . .”
  • “Does that make sense, Jesse?”

13. Suggest, Don’t Order

When you give constructive feedback, it’s important not to be adversarial. The very act of giving feedback recognizes that the person who made the mistake had a choice—and when the situation comes up again, they’ll be able to choose differently.

You could say:

  • “Next time, I suggest . . .”
  • “Try it this way.”
  • “Are you on board with that?”

14. Be Brief

Even when given empathetically, constructive feedback can be uncomfortable to receive. Get your message across, make sure there are no hard feelings, and move on.

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One exception? If the feedback isn’t understood, make clear that you have plenty of time for questions. Rushing through what’s clearly an open conversation is disrespectful and discouraging.

15. Follow Up

Not all lessons are learned immediately. After giving a member of your team constructive feedback, follow it up with an email. Make sure you’re just as respectful and helpful in your written feedback as you are on your verbal communication.

You could say:

  • “I wanted to recap . . .”
  • “Thanks for chatting with me about . . .”
  • “Did that make sense?”

16. Expect Improvement

Although you should always deliver constructive feedback in a supportive manner, you should also expect to see it implemented. If it’s a long-term issue, set milestones.

By what date would you like to see what sort of improvement? How will you measure that improvement?

You could say:

  • “I’d like to see you . . .”
  • “Let’s check back in after . . .”
  • “I’m expecting you to . . .”
  • “Let’s make a dent in that by . . .”

17. Give Second Chances

Giving feedback, no matter how constructive, is a waste of time if you don’t provide an opportunity to implement it. Don’t set up a “gotcha” moment, but do tap the recipient of your feedback next time a similar task comes up.

You could say:

  • “I know you’ll rock it next time.”
  • “I’d love to see you try again.”
  • “Let’s give it another go.”

Final Thoughts

Constructive feedback is not an easy nut to crack. If you don’t give it well, then maybe it’s time to get some. Never be afraid to ask.

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Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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