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Giving Feedback – guidelines

One of the most important tasks for our group is giving and receiving feedback on our work. The Bardstown Writers have created their own guidelines to ensure that fairness, sensitivity and respect underpin any critique of work.

1. Before reading their work, the writer should state what they are looking for regarding feedback – e.g. if they have written in the first person – does this work for the reader?  It may be helpful to prepare some questions for those giving feedback,  e.g. were there any parts that were unclear or inconsistent or extraneous? And specifically for fiction: were there any characters who were unbelievable? Any likeable/dislikeable characters, and if so, why? Any characters who added nothing to the story?


Gut reactions to the work are valuable – did they like the piece or not?  Were they hooked by the first few sentences and if not, why not? What did they think the story was about? Did they want to read on after the first page? Did they get bored and if so, when? Is the dialogue realistic, believable?  Asking questions allows less experienced group members to take part without being ‘critical’.  It’s also often very useful for the writer in appreciating the clarity (or lack of it) of their work.

2. If writers wish to send their work by email to the group between meetings for email feedback, then people giving feedback should respond ONLY to the writer and not to the whole mailing list, unless they’re happy for feedback to be shared with the group. In this case it may be preferable for feedback to be given at the next meeting instead. Comments made in an email can be misunderstood and may be more easily expressed sensitively in person.

3. Feedback is voluntary – group members don’t have to offer it. It is, however, one of the most useful aspects of belonging to a writers’ group and those expecting to hear others’ reactions to their work may wish to offer feedback in their turn.

4. Feedback should be given sensitively and constructively and highlight both the positive aspects and where the work could be improved or is inconsistent. The feedback should be limited to two or three positive/improving points for each piece and care should be taken to do that in a positive way, e.g. saying ‘each new chapter should move the story on’ rather than ‘the first four chapters don’t tell us anything’.

5.   It’s useful if members point out any technical errors regarding detail in the story or regarding pace, language, back-story, PoV (point of view), etc.

6. The person receiving the feedback should ideally remain silent until after the feedback, when they can answer any questions or comment. Having an open approach to feedback rather than trying to justify themselves will encourage more useful information.

7. There should be a time limit for each piece of work read (1000 words is approx. 5 mins). If possible, a reader may want to negotiate more time at the beginning of the meeting. As a group we can be flexible.

8. A writer’s work does not have to be read by the person who created it. If they prefer someone else to read it for them and someone is willing this is acceptable.

9. Giving feedback is difficult for many people – and it’s useful to remember it’s not about demonstrating the skills of the giver, but is about the writer’s work only.

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