Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Providing Positive Critique

I got asked by a colleague what I would say if someone submitted a piece for publication, but if it was not up to snuff. As most of us are volunteers, when we see a poorly finished piece, we see more work that we have to do.

However, it is not the editor's job to copy-edit a piece. The editor's job is to concept edit.

I had a long think about it, and told my colleague that I think that the best way to write a reply is to imagine this was our own article, then write a response in a way that we'd like to have someone do for us… with honesty, dignity and respect. I would go back to the author and ask if they – or someone they know – could proof/edit/revise it.

Starting with positive feedback is always good, to establish the value of the article to us. For example, tell the author “Thanks so much for your article. I really like how you did [W] and how you wove in [X]”. Then later in your response, tell them “However, I’m really sorry, but I don't think this is quite ready for publication yet. From my quick look, there seem to be a number of proofing errors which I feel would be detrimental to your professional reputation if it were published as is. It would be a lot stronger if it was revised and proofed, then resubmitted.”

Conclude with "We are very keen to publish your article, so please let me know when you can have it back to us. Ideally we would like to release it in our next issue, so would like your updated version by 25 February."

You could supply a few of the things below where you saw a pattern in the writing - but only if you felt comfortable, and if you were sure it wasn’t going to be rude or condescending: 
  • A list of typos that they need to address. Some examples might include: “Ensure you capitalise consistently; check that you aren’t using homophones; double-check that plurals do not have possessive apostrophes; check that the tense used is consistent throughout; check your use of commas; check your use of colons is correct; ensure your adjective use is correct; ensure your adverb use is correct; check that your sentences are complete (ie, contains both subject and object); break run on sentences into two or three shorter sentences; ensure your tone is consistent throughout (ie, first person all the way through)”.
  • Then there are the paragraph issues: “sometimes your transition between paragraphs is bumpy; sometimes you don’t use topic sentences to lead your paragraphs; sometimes you don’t have concluding sentences in paragraphs; sometimes your paragraph breaks are in the middle of an idea”.
  • Then there are the structural writing issues: “Sometimes your flow of ideas is unclear; sometimes the evidence is unclear; sometimes your narrative is muddied by an unnecessary side-trip (but the side-trip would make an interesting article on its own: could you write a piece on that for us for our next issue?); ensure that your findings are consistent with the field (or if not, explain why, giving references).”

If the author comes back to us asking questions on any of these, we should go can go back with specific examples, such as “What I meant by [Y] is where you wrote [Z] on page 3.”

Remember that it is possible that our writer may have other things going on in their lives; they may have sent a draft document; they may be dyslexic. A bit of kindness goes a long way.


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