Spreading good words around...
Spreading good words around...

'Consider each change . . Will it help my writing get across that brick wall?'

How to handle comments on your draft from other people: Your troubles are nearly over Having sweated to get your writing to a position where you think it is likely to work, you now have to pass your beautiful creation to others. Not only will they have different agendas . . . but they will also have spent far less time thinking about the writing than you have. Don’t be intimidated.


If you hand out a pile of papers and ask for ‘Comments, please’, don’t complain when it comes back full of red marks. You need to be specific about what you want people to do, and you should not simply accept what they say. Consider each proposed change against this question: will it help my writing get across that brick wall to the target audience?


1. Volunteers: First, you may wish to show your writing to people informally. Here are some people to try, and how to brief them.

  • Your spouse or partner: show them your work if you can, because they are good at asking basic questions and spotting errors that you no longer see because you put them there in the first place, eg, I lost a stone in a wee or The residents much enjoyed playing carpet bowels. If you have no partner, find someone else who enjoys being picky. Brief to partner: 'Can you find any stupid errors in here?'
  • A colleague: they should know about the topic, so will be able to point out if you have left out anything of major importance, or if your argument has gaping holes. Brief to colleague: 'Can you see any major pitfalls in here?'
  • A reader: it is vital to find someone who is typical of your target audience to see (a) whether they understand what you have written and (b) whether they find it interesting. Brief to reader: 'Can you tell me if you understand this? Do you find it interesting?'

At this stage you are in control. If you disagree with what they say, you can ignore their comments. You do need to be diplomatic, though: if you ignore everything they say all the time they will eventually become demotivated and stop helping.


2. Bosses: These could be your line managers, or they could be people who have some power over you (like co-authors whose signatures you need before you submit an article). Here you have to be more careful – and this is where your upward management skills come into effect.


You should already have discussed the brief with your boss(es). If you have managed to agree over message, market and pay-off, you could remind them of that, and try to steer them on to other tasks, such as whether your writing risks political or legal repercussions.


When their comments come back, you need to do a triage. Some of your boss’s comments will be extremely useful (and likely to help your writing cross that brick wall). In such cases, thank them profusely. Other comments (almost certainly the majority) will not make any real difference to whether your message gets across, but if you’re smart you will thank the boss for their contribution, and make the changes. (Some alpha-persons say they will ignore these comments, but that’s a high risk approach.)


This extract comes from the last chapter of  Write effectively: a quick course for busy health workers, Tim Albert, Radcliffe Publishing, 2008

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