Eliciting Good Response

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Imagine the following scenario:

You have a great idea for a project for your department at work. Because it will require significant resources and funding, the senior manager in your department has asked you to prepare a ten-page proposal.

After working on the proposal for a while, the senior manager sends you an email requesting to see your draft in progress. The proposal is far from complete, but you fire off a reply saying "Here is my working draft," and attach it. The next day, you receive another email from the senior manager full of feedback which you are obligated to take. However, the feedback asks you to revise your proposal in new directions, quite contrary to what you had planned, effectively taking over the direction of the proposal. You now have to discard many good ideas you had for development. Those sections where you knew you needed the most help--they were not addressed at all.

This happens all the time in getting response to our writing. We get proofreading corrections when we need ideas; we get heavy revision suggestions when the draft needs to be proofread to meet a deadline.

To elicit useful and focused responses from readers (during peer review, for example), we must solicit good response. In the above scenario, if the writer had explained to the senior manager where she needed help in the draft and what her plans were for further development, it's quite possible that the feedback would have been more focused and helpful. So when asking for feedback on a document, explain to the responder

  • your concerns about the current state of the draft (i.e., where, specifically, you need help)
  • where you are in the process of drafting (i.e., ready to polish to meet a deadline, planning to do more revision)
  • your target audience
  • any plans you might have for further development of the text

Once you've defined your needs, your reviewer is more likely to shape their feedback effectively for you. As a reviewer, it's much easier to address the writer's concerns than to try to guess what might or might not be useful to the writer.

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