Constructive Criticism: What to Do When You Asked For It

Our post on beta readers offered a strategy for soliciting structured feedback before project release. But it didn’t discuss strategies for handling that feedback once it arrives in your inbox.
Reading criticism is hard. After all, writing requires time and self-expression. No matter how professionally oriented, criticism can sting.
But integrating criticism is even harder. It’s never easy to judge which critical feedback is useful and which isn’t.
The simplest strategy? Look for repetition.

Repetition can be straightforward. If more than one beta reader (or more than one feedback form) specifies the same weakness, well, it’s a weakness.
But repetition can also be oblique. Consider the beta-reader responses to a question that asked about the translation of SME material into everyday language:

  • Reader A: “This doesn’t speak to the [product’s] purpose. Can it be cut?”
  • Reader B: “John Doe isn’t the right SME here. You should ask Jane Doe.”

The answers differ in content, but they’re the same in kind: This translation isn’t landing.
And repetition can be overwhelming. It’s no fun to read about the many different problems with your project. Luckily, these can usually be condensed into just one or two actual issues. For example:

  • Wordy 
  • Too long
  • Complicated
  • Confusing
  • Broad
  • Hard to follow
  • Awkward

These are all different ways of saying that the writing must be more direct to meet readers’ needs.
Criticism might not be fun, but it’s so fruitful. And not just for you. Soliciting critical feedback and then actually (and visibly) using it sets in motion a positive feedback loop that strengthens your project, your team, and your business’s commitment to your organizational end game.