Five Tips for Getting Helpful Feedback on Your Writing

Aug. 3, 2016

Last month I gave you five tips for getting your writing done. If you, along with most graduate students, have not gotten as far as you had hoped in your summer writing, don’t despair. Don’t feel guilty. Have a look at the tips here and continue writing – onward and upward! 

When you are ready to have others read your fellowship applications, here are five tips for getting the best feedback possible.

1. Give your readers guidance.

When you send or post drafts for others to read, be sure to give them some context for what they are reading.

  • Give your reviewers the essay prompts and the review criteria.

  • Explain where you are in the writing process. It is important for readers to know what kind of feedback you need at this point of your writing. If you are in the early drafting phase, you probably want feedback on the big ideas. If you are near the final draft, you are probably looking for comments on issues like organization and grammar.

  • Ask specific questions of different people. For example, you might want to ask one professor to comment on your bibliography and another to comment on your research methods. You might want to ask a friend to comment on the essay’s clarity or organization.

2. Give your readers a deadline.

Presumably, your reader has agreed ahead of time to provide feedback. Help your reader by giving him or her an idea of your timeline. Say something like, “I really appreciate your offer to give feedback on a draft of my essay. Would it be possible to get your comments in about a week? I want to have time to revise prior to the deadline.” (Two weeks is best, but one week is acceptable.) Your readers will likely appreciate having a deadline from you. Courteous reminders will likely also be appreciated.

3. Know what to expect from different readers.

After about a year in graduate school, you should have some idea of where to go in your department for specific kinds of help. One professor might be extraordinarily helpful in developing your bibliography. A fellow graduate student in your department might be the best person to help you refine your ideas. Another professor might be good at helping you articulate your theoretical framework. Do not expect to get everything from one person. In fact, I think it is not uncommon to have some readers be very bad at some things. If there is a professor who often points you down rabbit trails as you try to develop your ideas, do not ask for his or her feedback until your ideas are firmly established. Try to recognize and rely on the strengths of your individual readers.

4. Expect to feel upset.

Your writing can feel like an extension of you and when your writing is misunderstood or critiqued, it can feel like you are being criticized. I would almost always feel a little angry after receiving feedback from one particular professor, but after attending to his comments, my writing was invariably improved. So read the comments, take some time away from your writing, then get to work on revising.

5. Remember that you are the authority.

It is not unusual to get conflicting feedback on your writing. One person may like the little joke you have on page two while someone else might think it is too casual. Someone might think that the project is too ambitious while another reader might think it is too conservative in scope. This can be frustrating. However, remember that when you are writing an application for a fellowship, you are the captain of the ship, the executive chef in the kitchen, or, as one of our graduate editors describes it, the curator of your project. Listen to your readers but remember that your best and most reliable reader is yourself.

Finally, offer to give comments to someone else who is applying for fellowships. Reading and commenting on another person’s work will be helpful to them and also help you better understand and evaluate the comments you receive on your own work.

Good luck and keep up the writing!

The GradFunding Newsletter is a service of the University of Arizona Graduate College, Office of Fellowships and Community Engagement. You may use this article but please acknowledge Shelley Hawthorne Smith and the University of Arizona Graduate College Office of Fellowships and Community Engagement.

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