The feedback offered to clients by editors at Proofed can take several forms. Most commonly, these are the comments left on the text itself and the final comment to the client that describes what has been done.
Launch the microlearning module below to learn more about offering effective editorial feedback and to test your knowledge using our interactive quiz.
Alternatively, read on for a text-only version of the microlearning.
Tone + Words
By speaking with courtesy and respect, you are offering a wonderful gift to yourself, a useful embarrassment to the unkind, and a good example to bystanders.
When communicating with clients, your default tone should be polite, professional, and down-to-earth.
As an editor, your communication with your client needs to balance several factors:
- The act of editing or proofreading means that you are correcting things that the client (or their subcontractor) has done incorrectly. Thus, your feedback needs to tell them what they have done wrong.
- The client may feel stressed by other tasks or deadlines, or they may feel embarrassed about having their mistakes pointed out. For this reason, you should consider how your tone of voice sounds to your client.
- The level of feedback you are required to give will vary from client to client. You should aim to take this into account.
Abandon the "Compliment Sandwich"
The “compliment sandwich” (where the critic sandwiches negative feedback between compliments or positive feedback) has been proven to be ineffective, as people focus on the compliments and disregard the criticism.
Put another way, when you feed someone a [compliment] sandwich, they’re liable to walk away talking about the bread.
In other words, you shouldn’t sugar-coat feedback; say what is wrong plainly and politely, without cushioning your words. At the same time, you should be polite and consider the client’s reaction to your comments.
Ideally, you should move the focus from the client’s mistake to the editor’s actions, providing a sensible and verifiable reason for the change.
You don’t need to completely avoid the passive voice, but you should put any descriptions of what you have done into the active voice. For example: “I have applied title case,” not “Title case has been applied.”
Tailoring Comments to the Client
How you communicate and offer feedback to a client should not take a “one size fits all” approach.
You may not know exactly who your client is, but you should be able to tell from the document you are proofreading what they are likely to prioritise and what’s probably not going to be important to them.
For example, a marketing blog is unlikely to have strict referencing requirements. A free-form poem may take liberties with punctuation. A social media post won’t need you to meticulously define every acronym.
Similarly, the comments you leave should address the issues that you feel (or have been told) are most important to that particular client.
No Comments, Please
When deciding whether to leave a comment to a client in a document, you should first consider:
- Does the client want comments in their document?
- Does the client want you to minimize the number of comments you leave?
Most of the clients who want no comments at all (option 1) will be business clients. They will most likely want you to make editorial decisions and leave the copy ready for its intended purpose without any further intervention. In this case, you should not leave any comments, as per the client’s request.
When editing work for a client who wants you to minimize the number of comments, you should restrict any comments to instances where:
- You really don’t understand what the client means and can’t comfortably guess.
- Something is missing that the client will need to provide.
- Interpreting something incorrectly or leaving an error would be a significant issue.
When a client welcomes comments (which you can assume is the case if they haven’t said otherwise), then you should comment as appropriate.
You don’t have to comment every time you make a change; only do it if you think the writer really needs to know why you’ve done something, or on the first occasion you make that particular type of change.
There are a few instances where you would need to comment on the same issue more than once in a single document.
Comments, Comments Everywhere
You should avoid over-commenting for three main reasons:
- Commenting is time-consuming. If you’re being paid per word, then you are giving yourself a pay cut by commenting unnecessarily.
- Over-commenting offers no benefit to and will probably irritate the client. You’re not helping the client by reiterating the same comment over and over again, and they’ll probably get irritated by the need to sift through them all.
- Over-commenting camouflages the comments that the client really needs to pay attention to.
Similarly, don’t leave long comments unless they’re absolutely necessary. Try and make your comments only as long as they need to be; in the words of Franklin Roosevelt, “Be sincere, be brief, be seated.”
So Long, and Thank You
Editors working at Proofed will normally leave a final comment to the client when returning a document.
This doesn’t need to be long, but should reassure the client that Proofed values their custom and that the editor has fulfilled their side of the contractual bargain. Something like “Thanks and good luck!” is not sufficient (and will not be appropriate to all clients).
A typical generic comment might be something like:
I have made changes to improve grammar, sentence structure, and clarity, leaving some comments for you to review. Please check my comments and changes carefully. Thank you for choosing Proofed.
Of course, editors should pay attention to any client preferences (e.g., do they want any particular information from the editor?) and the nature of the client. A comment to a business client may well vary from one sent to a student applying for university.
The above example comment is a good “off-the-shelf” example, but personalization should be added where appropriate.
To summarize the above guidance to commenting and feedback:
- Be polite and professional.
- Tailor your comments to your client’s priorities.
- Take ownership of any changes that you have made (i.e., use the active voice).
- Comment only when you need to.
- Do not leave any errors in your comments.
- In your final comment to the client (if required), briefly explain what you have done and thank them for their custom.
Overall, your comments and feedback should gel with the client’s expectation of the service and reassure them that you have taken good care of their document.