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How to Give Written Feedback: The Dos and Don’ts

Updated on December 16, 2022Professionals

Constructive and direct feedback can help managers and coworkers motivate each other while celebrating growth and acknowledging challenges, and our approach to sharing feedback is critical to how our coworkers receive it. 

Giving feedback doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but don’t worry; we’ve put together a complete guide to writing constructive feedback. In this article, you’ll find our three-step formula for giving written feedback, tips for writing professional feedback, and examples of written feedback.

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What is written feedback?

Written feedback is a record of guidance meant to help someone in the workplace improve and develop professionally. Generally, written feedback can include praise, a look at what can be improved, and some next steps for the person to follow. 

Written feedback can be formal or informal and can come in many mediums, including these common formats: 

  • Annual reviews
  • Project retrospectives
  • Evaluations
  • Weekly meetings
  • Peer feedback
  • Emails
  • Comments in documents, project management tools, or other work platforms
  • Revision requests

When to give written feedback

Written feedback is a great way to leave a paper trail that documents a person’s progress and gives both the manager and the recipient something to reference when tracking work or movement toward a goal (whereas verbal feedback can be forgotten or misremembered). 

Many workplaces frame feedback as areas of progress and challenges, rather than an assessment that’s both positive and negative. Feedback that is critical of someone’s work or behavior can be difficult to give and receive, but avoiding it is worse. By withholding negative feedback, you do the person a disservice: How can they improve if they don’t know they aren’t meeting standards?

You may want to provide written feedback in the following circumstances.

  • Company-required reviews or evaluations
  • To leave a paper trail or keep a record
  • Uncomplicated situations that are easy to explain
  • Violations of written rules 
  • Giving feedback after an event

When should you hold off on feedback? 

There are always situations when feedback should be postponed or withheld. 

If feedback isn’t actionable or affirming, ask yourself why you want to give feedback. When emotions are elevated, or the information you want to share is personal, take a step back and reevaluate.

Constructive feedback should include notes on the recipient’s work or behavior that needs improvement—evidence of what they’ve done well, what they’ve done poorly, and clear next steps to motivate them. Positive feedback should be specific and complimentary. 

Lastly, you should avoid using written feedback as your primary delivery method if the situation you’re dealing with is too complex to explain in writing, or if it can be taken out of context. You may use written feedback to note a conversation, but nuanced situations are best saved for verbal feedback. 

You should refrain from written feedback in the following situations: 

  • When emotions are elevated
  • When personal feedback wouldn’t be constructive
  • In nuanced situations

How to give written feedback

Whether the subject is behavior that you want the recipient to continue or change, you can deliver your assessment positively in writing. 

No matter what type of feedback you want to give, make sure it arrives promptly. Most written feedback is provided after an event has already occurred. A good rule of thumb is to have feedback delivered within one week of an event unless it’s an annual review, project feedback, or another scheduled form of feedback. 

Be specific 

When it comes to feedback, avoid generalizations. Examples of the recipient’s actions and your recommendations for moving forward should be as clear as possible. 

The more specific you are, the easier it will be for the recipient to digest the information you’re conveying. Start by asking yourself, “What do I hope to achieve by giving this feedback?” and work backward from there. 

If you’re offering constructive feedback, provide examples of when the person’s work or behavior didn’t meet standards. Then give them clear, measurable, and achievable goals to accomplish in a set timeframe. If you’re giving positive feedback, point out a specific action or outcome you want to see again. 

Emphasize importance

While you may feel the feedback you’re discussing with the recipient is important, they may not feel the same way. It’s your responsibility to convey why what you’re sharing is important. 

You can show them it’s important by explaining the impact of their action (or lack of action).

Be empathetic

Your feedback is much more likely to be received well if you share it with empathy and kindness. Kind feedback is constructive, respectful, supportive, and compassionate. You can acknowledge challenges and external influences and note (if it’s true) that you appreciate their effort.

Kindness can be conveyed by: 

  • Allowing time for them to ask you questions.
  • Using I statements rather than you statements, for example, “I’ve noticed that the weekly metrics have been coming in late” or “I was hoping to see a more polished presentation of our team’s goals.”
  • Complimenting the things you’d like to see more of.
  • Acknowledging external challenges if they exist.

Examples of written feedback

Communication feedback message example

Hey, Lex. I’m wondering if you have a status update on the hotel project. If you’ve had any issues come up, please let me know as soon as possible so I can help you get back on track. As we’re nearing the end of the project, could you please message me a few times throughout the week so I know where we stand? Thanks!

Positive feedback instant message example

Hannah—thank you for being open-minded and persistent in our stand-up today. Your creative thinking helped us look at the issue in a new way, and I’m confident we’ll be able to finish the project on time. Next, let’s focus on reorganizing our last two sprints to meet the deadline. Keep up the excellent work!

Manager feedback example

Hey Martha, could we schedule a time to discuss our communication and my goals? When I’ve asked about my sales objectives recently, I don’t feel I’ve received clear answers about what I should aim for. I’d love to catch up with you within the next week to hit my targets by the end of the quarter. Are you free on Wednesday? 

Annual review email example

Hi Erik, 

Thanks for attending our annual review meeting today. Attached you’ll find the complete review form. I’ve included the highlights below. 

What’s going right: You’ve been a strong and timely communicator and diligent, detail-oriented project manager. Your team praises you (see attached document), and your collaborative efforts don’t go unnoticed! 

What needs improvement: You’ve only met two out of six of your project deadlines this year. This leads to projects going over budget and interferes with our ability to schedule contractors correctly. 

Next steps: As we discussed in our meeting, please prioritize deadlines in the coming year. Don’t hesitate to let me know if you need more staff, fewer projects, or any other resources. 

I’m here for you if you need to talk things out or have other questions or concerns. 

Sincerely, 

Lauren 

Peer feedback example

Hey Mak, your collaboration with the team was great this past week, but I felt that my own projects were sidelined when you asked for my help with the graphics for the email campaign. I’ve seen enough of your work in the past to feel confident that you could have come up with a great set on your own. Do you think you could try to tackle them solo next week? If not, let me know and we’ll discuss some alternatives. 

Feedback is key to professional development

Crafting effective feedback takes work. To create productive, digestible feedback, make sure it’s clear, empathetic, and actionable.

Give examples of when their work or behavior wasn’t ideal, and provide clear, achievable goals for follow-up. Also, point out accomplishments and emphasize why the feedback is important. Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes and keep your written feedback organized. Stick to this approach, and you’ll be on your way to giving effective written feedback.

Positive and negative feedback both require you to write with some tact. So keep these basics in mind: 

  1. Start with the positives. 
  2. Point out what’s lacking, if anything. 
  3. Finish with clear, attainable next steps. 

You may have a certain objective in mind when you’re providing written feedback. But remember that the best result is that the person appreciates the insight and knows what to do with the information.

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