two red pencils

As a nonprofit communicator, part of your job is editing content drafted by others. Over time, you’ll want your colleagues to give you better first drafts, which puts you in the role of a writing coach, whether you or they like it or not.

Giving feedback on something that feels as personal as writing feels can create a lot of tension if not done properly.

Here are three approaches I suggest to de-personalize writing feedback.

Agree on the Goal of the Writing Before Getting into Edits

Ideally, before anyone starts writing, you are talking about what you need the content to do. What is its purpose? What is the call to action? Have you considered the appropriate writing style (see our Seven Nonprofit Writing Styles)?

But if you haven’t talked about it before the writing began, you should definitely talk about it before editing. Reinforcing the goals for the communication and ensuring that both the writer and you as the editor agree on those goals will put your feedback in the right context. It will also help you focus on what changes are essential and which are optional style preferences.

Be Specific about What You Need More of and What You Need Less of

I’ve found that the “more of” and “less of” approach is a helpful way to shift the focus of a piece of writing without having to rewrite the whole thing yourself. What is working in the piece and could use shoring up even more (that’s the “more of”)? What needs to be minimized or cut all the way (the “less of”). If you give this feedback as line editing, you’ll be handing over a big mess of changes that may feel demoralizing. But if you talk about it in this more of / less of way, you are empowering the writer to create the next draft.

Acknowledge the Source or Basis of the Feedback

Finally, I recommend that as much as possible you link your feedback to the source. For example, are you making edits that bring the piece in line with your style guide or even past content that was successful? Say so. Are you following best practices recommended by an external source like Nonprofit Marketing Guide? Say so. Is it really just your personal preference or the preference of someone else in the approval chain of command? Say that too.

This is where technology can also be very helpful. If you regularly run drafts through tools like Grammarly or Hemingway App (my favorite for readability scores), you can use those assessments as the starting point.

Remember, your long-term goal is to coach your colleagues into becoming better writers of the kinds of content you need. Having the conversations centered around these three points will help!