3 min read

How to Give Constructive Feedback to a Technical Content Writer

Let’s face it: writing and editing aren’t traditionally front and center on an engineer’s resume. Yet, you might find yourself in the position to take on the role of subject matter expert (SME)—especially if you enjoy the challenge of communicating technical topics efficiently and effectively to your target audience. Whether you’re reviewing for a contract writer or a direct coworker, here are some guidelines on giving constructive feedback to people who create technical content for or with you.

Read content in full before getting into “editing mode.”

It’s tempting to dive right into comments and tracked changes, but it’s important to reacquaint yourself with the goals and structure of the piece. Taking this step can help you avoid making comments that become irrelevant based on text later in the document.

Address any questions or comments in the sidebar.

If there are callouts in the sidebar, focus there first. The writer is looking for your guidance to revise, expand, or move forward.

Address any questions or comments in the sidebar.

A real client comment (amended for privacy)

If you’re unsure on how to answer the comment or question, respond indicating how you’ll go about finding the answer (e.g., consult a colleague, look for a resource). That way, the writer knows you saw the comment and can continue with revisions in parallel.

Make edits to any information that needs correcting.

In my experience, when people think of content editing, this is typically what they think of first. To better manage your time, focus on the concepts being communicated and how they’re organized. At the beginning of content projects, my colleagues and I typically offer an overview of timing expectations for SME review. Everyone works and thinks at their own pace, but it’s helpful to have an hours estimate. Use that approximation to set aside review blocks on your calendar and avoid spending too much time on task.

Make notes where any additional detail or concepts should be added to cover the topic comprehensively.

For your writer to make revisions to a draft, your feedback needs to be actionable. Particularly with highly technical topics, suggest a fix. It gives the writer context for errors you’ve identified, helps them apply changes, and shows you’re invested in the quality of the final draft. Don’t worry about perfecting your words or phrasing, the writer can help, so long as your idea is clear.

Strong comments include the following:

  • What to do (there could be multiple options)
  • Where the change should be applied (often indicated by the comment/tracked change in your word processor)
  • Why the change improves the accuracy/quality of the draft

If you’re feeling like there’s more to discuss than what fits in a comment box, let the writer know. Sometimes it’s easier to hop on a quick call to talk it through.

Make notes where any additional detail or concepts should be added to cover the topic comprehensively.

A real client comment (amended for privacy)

Point out strengths.

Writers aren’t so delicate that they can’t be told that their work needs work. That’s the whole point of review. However, feedback needs to highlight specific flaws and strengths; that’s how a draft improves. Pointing out strengths also ensures those elements will make it into future content.

Point out strengths.

A real client comment (amended for privacy)

Resist the urge to rewrite content in full if it misses the mark.

If a piece of content doesn’t meet the goals and objectives that were outlined at the beginning of the project, it may seem faster or easier to rewrite in the short term, but it can damage the SME/writer collaborative relationship—especially if this is the first time you’re working together. Taking the time to provide thoughtful, constructive feedback leads to better content, and makes faster content generation in the long run.

When it comes down to it, remember that constructive feedback is a strength of high- performing teams, and you and the writer are, indeed, a team. At the end of the day, you’re both invested in creating high-quality content that benefits your prospects and customers, and drives engagement and leads for your business.

For more information on technical content creation, check out our Content Marketing Kit.