Feedback Is Not Editing

When I teach people how to give and receive text feedback in a group of researchers, I always provoke some of the participants with my opinion about editing.

First of all, during the workshop, the participants are not allowed to edit the texts they have received from the others in the group. Instead, they should stick to the task and give feedback. Some of them, however, are not used to the differentiation between editing and giving feedback. That’s why they end up doing both. When it’s their turn to give their feedback to the author, I stop them from presenting how they would edit the text. Why am I so strict? Giving text feedback is a different activity to editing. They are two different ball games, if you like.

In the case of giving feedback, you point out words, phrases, sentences you don’t understand; passages you stumbled upon; logical holes in the argument; problems you have with the structure; concerns about the language or style; or anything else that the author asked you to give feedback on (see the posts on feedback from the writer’s and reader’s perspective). Whatever you give feedback on, it suffices to say what kind of problem you have and where exactly in the text. You don’t have to indulge in how you would solve the problem – that’s up to the author. That also means that you don’t change the text yourself.

In the case of editing, that’s exactly what you’re expected to do: to alter or improve the text. You delete and add words, phrases, sentences; you rearrange paragraphs because the structure is not right; you fill in logical holes; and you polish the language and style. That’s what you do when you’re asked to edit – not to give feedback.

Do yourself and the author a favor and stick to what you’re supposed to do. You save time and energy for both yourself and the author. How do I know? I mixed up giving feedback and editing at the beginning of my career as a writing coach. Only after learning about feedback and editing did I realize my mistake. Since then, I give feedback, because that’s part of my job as a writing coach. I do not edit, however, because I am not an editor.


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