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Feedback and writing groups


Introduction

Giving and receiving feedback, like all good communication is a skill that can be developed. This resource outlines how to provide and receive feedback, the benefits of participating in writing groups, and some tips for running successful writing groups. The advice is relevant for a variety of research contexts including writing groups of all kinds, research supervision, reviewing academic work, editorial negotiations with publishers, and other forms of scholarly networking.

The advice in this resource represents a distillation of Joni Cole's (2006) book Toxic Feedback, and comments in the appendix of Ursula Le Guin's (1998:151-156) book Steering the Craft.

Effective feedback:

In addition to constructive criticism and positive comments, it is also useful to share more neutral or ambiguous comments. For example: general reactions, first impressions, thoughts about how a draft has changed from a previous draft, areas of agreement and disagreement with other feedback and your reasons for this. This kind of feedback is useful because it gives the writer a sense of how the text has been received.

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Positive feedback

Some people think that feedback consists purely of pointing out what's wrong with a piece of writing. Positive feedback is equally important because it:

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Phrases for giving feedback

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Tips for processing feedback

Make the most of it - don't waste this opportunity, listen carefully and take notes.

Be open - resist the temptation to defend your work, try not to talk too much.

Resist the urge to explain - explanations can make it difficult for the reader to separate what you have told them from what they have read and can reduce the value of any feedback offered.

Respect others opinions - all feedback is useful even if you don't agree with it. Feedback reveals how your work can be read or misread. Considering how others have read your work will enable you to get your point across better next time.

Prompt for constructive suggestions - if the feedback is vague or you don't understand, consider asking the reader for more specific information, reflect back their comments to check you have heard correctly.

One comment at a time - in order to avoid being overwhelmed after a feedback session, sift through the comments then put them aside and work through one at a time.

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Phrases for receiving feedback

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It may be useful to consider the kind of feedback we want to avoid giving others. Bad feedback:

It is important to avoid giving this kind of feedback because it can be demoralising and does not assist the writer to move forward. It can also undermine the sense of trust and enjoyment in the group.

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Writing groups

There are many benefits of writing groups. Writing groups can:

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Operational norms

At the first or second meeting of a new writing group it is useful to decide upon and record how the group intends to operate. A list of operational norms is provided below to act as a discussion starter for new writing groups. Experienced group participants recommend:

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Role of the facilitator

Writing groups, especially those with more than four members, will usually run better with a facilitator. The facilitator can be the same person every meeting, or group members can take it in turns to facilitate group meetings. The facilitator's role is to foster a sense of community, rather than one of competition by keeping the discussion positive and task focused.

The role of the facilitator is to:

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The 'world's worst' workshop participants

Joni Cole (2006:134-137) provides a characterisation of the 'world's worst' workshop participants. Cole's descriptions are provided here to help us to reflect on how we can participate in a positive manner.

The shadow - shows up to meetings, but rarely shares or takes a turn.

The dominator - doesn't draw breath, likes to talk about self and pads comments with irrelevant detail.

The star - assumes their work is the best, brags about their achievements, doesn't read other people's work.

The grammarian - obsesses with minor errors, avoids being involved in discussion about substantive themes.

The devil's advocate - contradicts for the sake of contradiction, enjoys stirring up trouble.

The interrupter - impulsive, impatient, cuts people off, runs away with others' ideas.

The outpatient - wants to work out issues and connect with others, not work on writing.

The gossip - talks about other members behind their back, poisons group members against one another.

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Constructive group behaviours

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References

Cole, Joni B 2006, Toxic feedback, University Press of New England, Hanover.

Le Guin, Ursula 1998, Steering the craft: Exercises and discussions on story writing for the lone navigator or the mutinous crew, The Eighth Mountain Press, Portland Oregon.

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