How to give feedback on copy to get what you want

There’s rarely a time when the first draft of copy that I do for a client ends up being the final version, word for word. There’s always at least one round of revisions to be made with tweaks and fine-tuning.

This is perfectly normal.

Feedback and revisions are all part and parcel of the creative process as you work together to produce a polished piece of copy that everyone is happy with.

The way you, the client, go about giving feedback can influence this process greatly, making it long and tortuous or efficient, productive and creative.

The following tips are designed to help you give feedback on copy to:

  • Get the final product that you want
  • Avoid a never-ending cycle of feedback and amends

Obviously, it takes two to tango, and copywriters not responding well to feedback is a whole other issue deserving of a blog post in itself. However, these tips should help you ensure a smooth, painless revision process.

Understand what feedback is

Feedback is a conversation that starts with the initial brief.

It’s a collaborative process with the shared aim of working towards a finished product everyone is happy with.

Here are some things feedback is not:

  • Getting your red pen out and rewriting swathes of the copywriter’s work – you might as well just write it yourself.
  • Highlighting sections and commenting “I don’t like this” or “make this better”, without giving a reason why or suggesting how.
  • Sending back a one-line email telling the copywriter that you hate everything they’ve done.

Why don’t these things count as feedback?

They don’t count as feedback because they shut the conversation down. They turn what should be a collaborative process into a one-sided “I’m right, you’re wrong” scenario. If you start acting like this, don’t be surprised if your copywriter runs for the door.

So what should you do instead?

Give feedback face to face

This is by far the most efficient and productive way to give feedback to your copywriter.

If they’re local, arrange a time to sit down over a coffee to discuss their work, or do it by video call if they’re further afield.

Talk through your comments one at a time, clearly explaining what you like/ don’t like and what actions the copywriter needs to take in order to rectify any issues.

Make sure that you double-check that everything you’ve said has been understood and that you and your copywriter are on the same page. Keeping minutes of the meeting with agreed actions points is a good way to triple check that you’ve both understood each other.

It might seem like a hassle to nail down a time when you’re both available to do this, particularly if you’re working remotely and across time-zones. However, I promise you that half an hour of face-to-face time will save endless emails backwards and forwards further down the line.

Be constructive and specific

Even if the first draft that your copywriter presents to you is an absolute disaster, saying that it’s an absolute disaster will not help them produce anything better.

Copywriters are not delicate snowflakes – we have to deal with our fair share of rejection and criticism. There is, however, a difference between giving a straightforward opinion and being rude.

Always remember that, first and foremost, you are dealing with a human being.

If you don’t like a certain word or phrase, highlight it and suggest an alternative.

If the tone of voice isn’t quite right, give an example of where it’s more suitable.

If there’s something missing, say where it’s missing and supply the necessary information so that the copywriter can fill in the gaps.

If the whole piece misses the mark, revisit the brief with the copywriter to reiterate what you need them to do.

Don’t forget to highlight what you like too

When you’re giving feedback it’s easy to get tunnel vision and only focus on the aspects of the copy you don’t like.

Drawing attention to parts of the copy you like can be just as useful for your copywriter, if not more so.

It gives your copywriter a benchmark by which to measure the rest of their copy and bring it up to the required standard. Doing this makes it more likely that the second draft of copy will hit all the right marks.

Avoid drip-feeding comments

There’s nothing more confusing than receiving conflicting feedback on a piece of work from multiple team members. Allowing your team free rein to drip-feed comments to your copywriter is a sure-fire way to give them mixed messages.

It’s also really inefficient and a quick route to racking up extra editing charges for more rounds of revisions than are specified in the copywriting contract.

To avoid this, always nominate a single point of contact to communicate with your copywriter.

This doesn’t mean that your team can’t all have a say on the copy. It means that you should sit down and discuss it together to reach a consensus on the feedback to be given. The nominated contact should then communicate this to the copywriter.

Know when to cut your losses

People don’t often talk about this, but I think it’s important to mention. It’s probably copywriter blasphemy to even suggest it, but here I go.

If the copy you get back from your copywriter is truly terrible, this is usually for one of two reasons:

  • There has been a misunderstanding of the brief.
  • Your copywriter is not up to scratch.

If it’s the former, you need to sit down and revisit the brief to talk through what’s been missed.

If you suspect it’s the latter, it might be better to cut your losses and look for another copywriter who is capable of delivering the goods.

It may seem like the nuclear option, but it’ll save you time and money in the long run, particularly if you need a good copywriter for ongoing projects.

Remember to pay your original copywriter what they’re due though! They did the work (no matter how poorly) in good faith so it’s up to you to honour this agreement.

In conclusion

When you get the first draft of copy back from your copywriter, remember these tips for giving good feedback to get what you want quickly and painlessly:

  • Acknowledge that feedback is a collaborative process and requires open communication.
  • Arrange a time to speak face-to-face (or by video call), take minutes and record agreed action points.
  • Keep your feedback constructive and specific – always explain why you don’t like something and how you think it could be improved.
  • Highlight what you like too – this gives the copywriter a benchmark by which to measure the rest of the copy.
  • Avoid drip-feeding comments – always assign a point of contact to communicate all feedback in one go.
  • Know when to cut your losses – if you suspect your copywriter is not capable of delivering the goods, walk away and find someone else.
I write high-impact copy to help exceptional brands like YOURS get noticed.

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