Giving Constructive Feedback

In my previous blogpost I highlighted the importance of embracing feedback to improve your academic writing and to increase the chances of your paper being published in a prestigious journal. However, for feedback to be well received it must be given in a way that is relevant, meaningful and constructive to the recipient. It is easy to be critical but how do we give feedback in a skilful way.

Feedback varies widely depending on the circumstances in which it is given. Employers use feedback for performance reviews, teachers utilise feedback for formative assessments and in the academic environment critique is crucial for academic progression. Constructive feedback should be information-specific and issue focused, however, it is dependent on factors such as format, timing and the perceived expertise of the provider of the feedback (Groves et al. 2014).

David Parker (AUT Postgraduate Learning Adviser) suggests that feedback should be:

    1. Balanced – specific compliments on what is working well alongside recommendations on specific areas for improvement. Many writers are just not sure enough about their own abilities and benefit from a good dose of reassurance.
    2. Constructive – feedback can (should) model improvements by offering examples and illustrations of how this can be done. Or another text (a thesis or a research paper) might provide these examples so the reviewer can say ‘this is an example of what I’m thinking you might do’.
    3. Timely – Author and reviewer should agree on a timeframe for return of the manuscript with comments.

In addition to the type of feedback required, you should think also about your feedback style. By using feedback language that is specific and descriptive your feedback might be more constructive. For example, how would you respond to the following statements?

  • Delete this sentence [and put a red line through it]
  • You might consider deleting this sentence.
  • What do you gain by including this sentence?

The last statement encourages the author to think about the reasons for including the sentence and is therefore a more constructive way of giving feedback. Try and give both positive and negative feedback in language that is neutral and unemotional.

Finally, if you think the paper you are reviewing is really bad, resist the urge to overuse the red pen or write copious editorial comments, and try to highlight the most important issues that need reworking. Remember, your feedback may influence whether that research gets published or not.  Your challenge is to add value to the paper!

Reference

Groves, M., Mitchell, M., Henderson, A., Jeffrey, C., Kelly, M. & Nulty, D. (2014). Critical factors about feedback: ‘They told me what I did wrong; but didn’t give me any feedback’. Journal of Clinical Nursing 24, 1737-1739. doi: 10.1111/jocn.12765

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About Robyn Kannemeyer

Robyn Kannemeyer was the Researcher Development Coordinator at AUT from October 2016 to the beginning of March 2017. She has an MSc in biosecurity and conservation and is taking up a role at Landcare Research as an Environmental Social Scientist. She is passionate about conserving New Zealand’s unique biodiversity and recently returned from travelling through South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Tanzania where she climbed Mt Kilimanjaro.

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