How to give feedback to a copywriter

Whatever copywriting project you’re embarking on – whether it’s website copy, a chunky white paper or a series of expert led blog posts – there will come a point when you need feedback. 

Although in a perfect world you’d be happy with each and every word your copywriter presents in their first draft, the chances of that are practically zero. It may be that there are just a few tweaks that are easy enough to make or there might be broader issues around messaging, structure or tone that you’re not 100% happy with.

So how do you give feedback in a way that will ensure that your second draft copy is that much closer to what you’re looking for? Here’s what we’ve learned over the years, from a writer’s perspective.

Remember that it’s not personal

This is a really important point to start with. A lot of people find giving feedback uncomfortable, as it feels like a criticism. But as copywriters we expect to get guidance from our clients in terms of what’s working for them and what isn’t.

After all, writing is as much an art as a science. There’s an element of subjectivity, and what works for one person won’t always work for another. Our perceptions of what constitutes “formal” or “humorous” or “disruptive” might be different from yours.

So try to take the emotion out of it and simply be as clear as possible about what you do and don’t like so that the next draft is better. That said, positive framing is always nicer to receive than blunt negativity! Try “need something less technical here” instead of “this is way too complicated”.

“From the outset, it’s important to be realistic about what your copywriter will be able to achieve with the tools they’ve been given.”

Does it meet the brief?

Having said that you should be clear about what you do and don’t like, the main thing to consider is how well the copy meets the brief. After all, you’re not the target reader and part of why you’ve hired a copywriter is to bring an outside perspective.

For example, you may have asked for a technically complex piece that still needs to be accessible to a non-technical audience. In which case, don’t be surprised if the copy is simplified and not as nuanced as you – the expert – understand it to be.

Of course, creating a good, detailed brief is part of what a copywriter should be able to help you with. Ideally, work on it collaboratively and sign it off before any writing work starts so everyone is on the same page as to what good should look like.

Be realistic about what’s possible

From the outset, it’s important to be realistic about what your copywriter will be able to achieve with the tools they’ve been given.

Imagine, for example, you’re the marketing manager and your company’s subject matter expert isn’t available to come to the briefing and input their insights. Naturally your copywriter is going to have a hard time creating a unique piece of thought leadership content.

The same is true if you haven’t yet clarified your thoughts about the value proposition of your product or service. Your copywriter is going to struggle to articulate them in your first draft copy without first doing some messaging work with you.

Messaging, structure and tone

There are three overarching elements that you can consider as you put together your feedback notes. By understanding the differences, you can be that bit more accurate about which elements you need your copywriter to work on.

First, messaging. If you had to summarise the point of your blog post in a few words, what would it be? What’s the key takeaway you want people to get from your website copy? If these aren’t correct, then nothing else will be so it’s important to get them right – ideally before the writing even starts.

Structure is about how the key elements of your copy are laid out. This might be the order that you tackle your main points in a blog post, the way you segment your services on your website home page, or simply how copy-heavy different elements are.

Finally, tone is about the actual words used and the impression they give about the brand’s personality, levels of formality and so on. Are you asking people to ‘check out our sizzling deals’ or ‘take a look at our exclusive offers’, for example.

Broad vs detailed feedback

There are two general types of feedback. Broad feedback is an overarching thought about, for example, the angle of your blog post not quite being right. Perhaps the copywriter has taken one point that you made in the briefing and built too heavily on it, skewing the overall feel of the piece.

In this case, a conversation might be the easiest way to give your amends. It’ll mean they can ask more probing questions to get to the bottom of why the first draft isn’t quite working.

But sometimes broad feedback isn’t helpful. If you think the tone is “too formal”, for example, it’s helpful to highlight words and phrases in the copy that demonstrate this. As we’ve said, your understanding of what formal looks like might be different to your copywriter’s.

The practicalities – tracked changes and comments

When it comes to adding feedback into a first draft copy document, there are two different options, which we’d suggest using together. This applies for any text based document, whether you’re using Google Docs (as we do) or Word or something else.

The first is the comments function. This allows you to highlight a sentence or paragraph and say things like “too wordy” or “can we give an example here” without having to do any rewriting. Remember that you’re paying your copywriter for a reason, so don’t do more work than you have to.

If you do want to tweak any wording yourself, use the tracked changes function – in Google Docs this would be editing in ‘suggestion mode’. This gives your copywriter a chance to check the changes for errors and will also help them learn about your preferred style. This is particularly important if you’re building an ongoing relationship.

And if you are entering into a longer term relationship with a copywriter or copywriting agency, then highlighting what you like – as well as what you don’t – is very useful too.

Signing off your copy

Most copywriters will build in a couple of amends stages as standard, depending on the size, complexity and importance of a project. By being as clear and as detailed as you can in the first round of amends, you should find that by the second round you’re down to much more minor tweaks.

If your copy is being designed in some way – for example, if you’ve commissioned a website or brochure – you might want to ask your copywriter to give the content a final once over at the design proof stage. This allows them to catch any errors that might have crept in and potentially help you adjust the length of the copy to fit the design, if that’s needed.

Once you’re completely satisfied with your copy, it’s time to sign it off officially. After this point, if you need any further changes, this will generally be seen as an additional job.

If you’re happy with how your project has gone, don’t forget to tell your copywriter or agency. It’s always nice to get positive feedback! But more importantly, they should be making notes about all the feedback they’ve received so that next time you need some support, they’ll be ready to go. The first draft of your future projects should need far less in the way of amends than the original copy did.

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