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How to Provide Useful Feedback when Editing Documents

If you edit documents for your employees or co-workers, ensure you are giving the best feedback possible. Here are ways to be a great editor.

Give Specific Feedback

Employees need to know exactly what they have done right and what specifically needs to be improved. Saying good job isn’t specific enough. Neither is saying something like this could use some work. Writers need more guidance. How can you provide it?

  • Ask specific questions to get writers to think about the effectiveness of the document. For example: Will Council recognize and understand these terms?
  • Recommend changes and give enough direction to help them. For example: This long paragraph has a lot of information. I suggest breaking it up so that the reader can find the key points faster.
  • Point out positive aspects to reinforce good writing habits. For example: The bullet points present the information in a clear and easy to read way. Great job!

Remember to be patient. In the short term, giving feedback might take more time. However, in the long term, it will save hours of editing because this process helps employees develop their skills.

Avoid Changing the Writer’s Style

When editing, do a self-check after you suggest a change. Did you suggest a change to improve the document, such as correcting grammar and typos, making the message clearer or making the tone more positive? Or, did you suggest the change because that’s how you would write it if you were the author?

We all have our own writing style and word preferences. When editing, you need to respect and maintain the writer’s style. Doing so helps build trust, and you’ll find it easier to work with the writers you edit. Unless the writer is using an incorrect style, such as being too formal or informal, leave style alone.

Remembering to be specific and respect a writer’s style will allow the writer to flourish and will create less work for everyone involved.

Why Your Workplace Should Have a Style Guide

Do employees in your organization struggle with using consistent abbreviations, spellings, numbers and capitalization? Maybe you write Internet with a capital I but your co-workers spell it internet. Or you like organize with a Z while others spell it organise. None of these choices are inherently right or wrong. The issue is the lack of consistency. As an organization, you can avoid these consistency problems by using a style guide.

A style guide is a tool that defines standards for language and formatting. There are many external style guides you can use that cover a wide range of writing issues. The Canadian Press Style Book is the most common guide used in Canada. It offers both a printed book and an online version.

However, you should also consider having a shorter in-house style guide, created by and for employees in your organization, because it allows writers to meet specific standards for your organization’s written communications. These may take a little while to compile, but they save a lot of hassle in the long run.

Benefits of a Style Guide

  • Style guides save time. Finding answers to questions can be done quickly. No more asking others what spelling they use or researching your organization’s formatting preferences.
  • Style guides improve document quality. Following the standards in a style guide results in fewer inconsistencies because they provide clear guidance on grammar and style when multiple possibilities exist.
  • Style guides reduce disputes. Referring to a style guide instantly settles debates, such as “Do we need a capital I for Internet?
  • Style guides can define writing expectations. You can use an in-house guide that does more than provide consistency. You can use it to set internal expectations, such as dos and don’ts of business emails.

Editing Skills for Managers

If you want to hone your employees’ writing skills and encourage them to be self sufficient, you need to know how to be a good editor. Let’s take a look at ways you can do this.

Let Your Employees Do the Re-Writing

This can be a tough one. As managers, we often see what needs to be done to make a document better, and we think it will take less time to do the re-writing ourselves. Don’t fall into this trap!

If you want your employees to learn and not become overly dependent on you, let them do the work. (It can also hurt their morale if you don’t trust them to do their own work.) Employees won’t get better if they never have to fix and polish their own writing. While providing specific feedback and letting them do the work may take more time in the short run, in the long run, everyone will be better off, and you will spend less time on writing tasks that aren’t your own.

Meet with the Writer

To help your employees improve their writing, don’t just send back their drafts with your comments attached. Meet with them to discuss their writing. This will allow you to explain your reasoning for the changes you’d like to see. It also allows employees to ask clarifying questions. Remember to also provide positive feedback, so employees will know what they’ve done well. This also helps morale.

Have Employees Take Charge of Their Writing

Writing is a skill, and like any skill, the more you study it and practice it, the better you become.

  • Encourage your employees to keep a list of items they need to improve upon.
  • Direct employees to places for continual learning.
  • Have writing references on hand, such as the Canadian Press Stylebook.
  • Provide coaching and training opportunities.

Post and Share Good Writing Examples

While we all need to know our weaknesses to improve, acknowledgement and celebration of our strengths help keep us motivated. They also allow employees to compare their work to good writing, so they know what to keep doing and what might need improving.

Being a good editor will help your employees flourish as writers and reduce your own work burden. What’s not to like?

Controlling Sentence Length

Writing is often plagued with sentences that are too long. The more words and relationships in a sentence, the more confused your readers may become. As writers, we need to remember that our brains process information better when it’s presented in small chunks.

Using shorter words and removing bulky phrases is one way to reduce sentence length. However, controlling sentence length is also a matter of selecting information units and making separate sentences for each unit. In other words, a sentence should only cover one main thought or idea. When you change ideas, start a new sentence.

A good guideline to follow is to keep sentences to a maximum of 2.5 typed lines. If a sentence is over 2.5 lines, there is probably more than one idea being presented to readers. Sometimes a sentence with only one idea might end up being longer than 2.5 typed lines, or much shorter. That’s fine, because having different sentence lengths adds variety to your writing.

You can also prevent your sentences from becoming overly long by avoiding the overuse of linking words such as and, but, or, so, because, also and however. All of these words are useful to help you link ideas, but if you overdo it, your sentences can get away from you.

You can have a never-ending sentence if you throw in too many of these linking words.

Let’s look at an example of a sentence that can be chunked into shorter ideas.

Before

Our job is to stay between the stacker and the tie machine to see if the newspapers jam, in which case we pull the bundles off and stack them on a skid because otherwise they would back up in the stacker and the press would have to be turned off.

After

Our job is to stay between the stacker and the tie machine to see if the newspapers jam. If they do, we pull the bundles off and stack them on a skid. Otherwise, they would back up in the stacker and the press would have to be turned off.

We’ve taken one sentence and turned it into three. By separating the three ideas, we’ve made this text easier to read, something your readers will appreciate.

Evaluating Training by Examining Performance

Evaluating performance means taking your training beyond the classroom. You’ve already taken a training class and confirmed you learned what you were supposed to. Now ask yourself, have you taken your new knowledge or skill back to the workplace?

Performance looks at how we transfer and use the learning that we do in a formal learning setting. Here, we are looking at the practical effects of training.

Why Performance Doesn’t Always Change after Training

Just because you have learned something new doesn’t mean your performance will change. Sometimes, we go back to work and keep on doing things the same way we did before training. Why? There can be a number of factors at play.

Sometimes, we are resistant to change. Just because you can do something in a new way doesn’t mean you want to. Without support and supervision from management, change isn’t likely to happen. This may also be a sign that training didn’t do a good job of explaining how this new method will benefit you and other employees.

Changing habits also takes focus and time until new skills become ingrained. If you feel rushed or unsupported, you may not be able to apply your learning. For example, if you learned how to write business documents using plain language, but have a manager who still insists you write using business jargon, you aren’t likely to change the way you write.

The Bottom Line

If you want to know how effective your training was, your performance back on the job needs to be examined by you and management. To help ensure success, management also needs to look at ways to support you while you are changing your behaviour.

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