By Travis Willmore
Your writing can often benefit from outside opinions, much like your lungs can often benefit from outside oxygen. Peter Elbow’s Writing with Power discusses two types of feedback you can get from outside sources, criterion-based feedback and reader-based feedback. Reader-based feedback asks the reader to describe their reactions as they read the work.
For this type of input, you may want to pick someone familiar with your topic. Don’t worry about any qualifications for technical proficiency that your reader needs to meet beyond an understanding of the standards for an academic paper. Just concentrate on their faculty for honestly expressing how they react to the paper. If you’re looking for reader-based feedback, it might help to get input from a variety of sources because a piece of writing affects each individual differently. Here are some things you can ask your readers to facilitate the kinds of responses you would find helpful:
*What was happening to you as you started reading the piece? Were you bored? Engaged? Furious?
*Which words or phrases struck out the most and why?
*What sense does the writing give you of the writer as a person?
*What images did this writing conjure up?
*Where did you get confused?
*Can you identify the source of the confusion?
*What do you wish had been said that wasn’t?
A key benefit of reader-based feedback is that it highlights where people were confused by your writing. Something that makes perfect sense to you might not translate in a way gets your idea across to the reader intact. Once those areas of confusion are pinpointed, they can be addressed with your own choices on how to revise the ideas, content, and structure to make your intent shine through more clearly.
With this type of feedback, you have an idea of what fundamental areas to address, rather than having to focus on specific technical issues that do or don’t “work.” You are free to focus on how your writing addresses your potential audience and revise it in a way that you see fit, rather than having a prescriptive set of guidelines imposed.
Whether you choose criterion-based feedback or reader-based feedback or both, your writing always stands to benefit from more eyes reading through it. There will be an ultimate reader at the end of your paper’s journey to completion, the person assigning it a grade, so having others along the way to lend outside perspective could be one of the most helpful things you can do for your writing.