Giving and getting peer feedback (In-depth guide)
Getting feedback—and giving it!—can feel challenging and scary. Opening ourselves up to critique is hugely vulnerable. It can be enormously scary to ask other people to point out places our writing might not be working. However getting good peer feedback can be a great way to grow as a writer, and giving good feedback improves our ability to self-edit.
This cheat sheet is designed to guide you in getting and giving good substantive feedback. This covers story and scene elements and isn’t about spelling and grammar.
The feedback cheat sheet
We designed this cheat sheet to be writer-led and collaborative. Asking for feedback can be a vulnerable process, and so allowing the writer to lead by highlighting the things they’d like help with can make the process feel less frightening.
When seeking feedback as a writer, you will need #1: a draft and #2: a reader. The draft does not have to be super polished and posting-ready. Sometimes getting feedback on something that you know is wrong in some way can help clear it up. This process will be most helpful to you if you have #3: specific questions or stuck places you’d like help with. This can be as broad or as narrow as you like, but going into this process with a clear idea of what you’d like commentary on will make sure that this process is as helpful as possible to you. Keep in mind that it is still possible to get feedback you weren’t expecting and may not like, but try to approach the process with an open mind.
When offering feedback as a reader, make sure that the piece sounds genuinely exciting to you, and that you have time and energy to fully engage with the piece. Don’t offer to read if what you really want is feedback on your own work. Also keep in mind your own preferences, biases, and tastes. This process isn’t about “being right” as a reader, it’s about helping the writer using your own reflections on the piece shared with you. Remember that your main goal here is to help the writer with their story, not turn it into the story you think it should be.
- Writer makes a copy of this cheat sheet
- Writer fills out their portion of the cheat sheet
- Writer shares cheat sheet and draft with Reader
- Reader reads the piece through once without making notes
- Reader reads a second time, now making notes
- Reader fills out their portion of the cheat sheet based on their notes, with a focus on Writer questions and stuck places
- Reader shares completed cheat sheet with Writer.
- Reader and Writer debrief and clarify as needed
For the writer
The key to getting good feedback as a writer is to ask specific questions. This offers your reader a roadmap and makes sure that you get feedback that is helpful and relevant.
What am I looking for help with in this piece?
Be as clear as you can about what you’re asking for help with. Is it character motivation, or scene pacing? Are you worried about the reader being bored by a lengthy bit of exposition? List it all out here. Try to be specific. Questions like “Did you think it was good?” are not going to give you super helpful answers, but questions like “Is the character’s motivation clear in this scene?” will give you something very concrete to work with.
Please don't comment on:
Here are all the things you would like your reader to ignore. If you know a character’s motivations don’t make sense and are working on it, or you haven’t gone through to self-edit and remove filtering, having those aspects discussed in detail can feel annoying. So list out the known issues you don’t want your reader to address in order to keep it focused on where you do want commentary.
Optional: Here are the places I feel stuck
If you feel stuck on something, getting a reader’s perspective can help. List out the things that are causing problems for you right now.
Optional: Reader suggestions
Sometimes getting suggestions can be really invigorating, allowing us to think beyond the frame we’re in; other times, they can feel annoying or like the suggester is trying to railroad our work. If you would like to hear suggestions on the story from your reader, indicate so here. Remember that you don’t have to take them–you’re just asking for ideas.
For the reader
The key to giving good feedback is to be attentive to what the writer is asking, compassionate to their vulnerability, and reflective about your own responses. We all have personal preferences, tastes, and experiences that inform how we engage with fiction. Sometimes the writers’ aims align with our tastes, sometimes they don’t. When you’re giving writing feedback, let the writer lead with their priorities and questions, while making note of your own reactions.
What did I like in this piece?
Write down what you liked in the piece, or thought was effective or found interesting. Even if you didn’t personally like something but still thought it was well done, include it here. There’s no such thing as too much praise! Knowing what they did well helps the writer know what they can lean on when the rest of the writing feels hard. And everyone likes compliments!
What did I get from this piece?
What impressions did you as a reader get from this piece? How did it make you feel? Make sure to use “I” statements here, like I thought… I felt… or When X happened, I felt…. This is about how you, the reader, encountered the piece, not about the writer.
Go back to where the writer has put in their questions and copy them out here, along with your answers. Try to be as specific as possible! If the writer asks how you felt about a character, say how you felt and what passages in the story made you feel that way. The bulk of your feedback should consist of answering the writer’s questions.
If the writer indicated above they would like help in specific stuck places, try to provide some specific feedback on those elements.
What questions came up for you as you read this piece? Was anything unclear, or were there things you wanted to know more about?
Optional: Suggestions (based on writer's request)
ONLY fill out this section if the writer has indicated they want suggestions in the “Reader Suggestions” box above.