One of the features of being part of a writing class is having the opportunity to give feedback to your fellow students. This takes quite a bit of thinking through. If you are used to giving feedback in other roles you might be able to draw on those experiences but of course in the writing class you are an equal, a peer, not a manager or supervisor. You will also be receiving feedback on your own writing at some point and this can be helpful in thinking about what you would like others to do for you.
So giving feedback requires some careful thought in terms of what you want to say, what will be most helpful to the other person and how to frame your suggestions in ways that respect the effort that has gone into the writing. You, as a fellow student, know how hard it is to share your writing so you easily can recognize the sensitivity associated with feedback to others.
Finding out what the other person is looking for is a good start to providing feedback that will be helpful. If the person wants to gain a general sense of how the writing works, whether it makes sense, whether there’s anything significant that jars, it will be not helpful to give critique on grammar or specific details. If the writing has been well developed and works as a piece already, it may be time to comment on any structural issues or grammatical errors. If the writing is almost at a final stage, it might then be time to give editing feedback about specific details.
Sometimes the person will also appear anxious or nervous about sharing their writing so it’s natural to feel empathetic and not want to be too harsh in giving feedback. This is where it can become tricky when thinking about how to give feedback that goes beyond a clap or pat on the back. Finding a way to be encouraging and respectful while also providing useful feedback is really important so that everyone gets what they want from the class. Beginning with what you liked, the parts that impacted on you and how it made you feel, can all be really helpful and set the tone for positive feedback. Then questions might be helpful rather than specific suggestions of what the writer can do. Finishing with an encouraging and hopeful statement can also acknowledge the work that has gone into the writing and inspire the student to continue.
It can be important to recognize when you are not really impressed by the writing because it is a different style to what you usually read or enjoy. Perhaps this makes it difficult to understand or comment on because you are not familiar with the genre or you misunderstand what the writing is conveying. In this situation it can help to name this and still ask the questions you have because they may still be useful, particularly if the writer is wanting to have a wide audience of readers.
Giving feedback takes much thought and care. Being respectful while open and honest is quite a balancing act. Knowing that your feedback is just one opinion that the writer will or won’t take on board when taking the next steps of their writing journey can help us to be curious rather than certain about what we are suggesting.