Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Feedback

Feedback leads to better texts, better students and better learning 

Some people feel uncomfortable about giving and receiving feedback. Allowing others to see your work before you are completely satisfied yourself, or commenting critically on other people's work, can take some getting used to. But once you have learned to give and receive feedback, you will develop a more professional approach to your own work and become better at assessing it yourself. 

Sometimes, teachers facilitate feedback, but you can benefit from eliciting feedback much more regularly, for example from your study group. Ask different people for feedback so that you get a broad response to your work. You can get different types of feedback from different readers, e.g. feedback on the academic content from your fellow students, teachers and supervisors, or feedback on your communication from outsiders who are not familiar with the topic. 

Group feedback 

In the context of group feedback, it is good idea to agree on the framework for giving feedback. Make sure you have aligned your expectations in the group so that nobody finds the situation unpleasant. 

How to give feedback

As feedback giver you will: 

  • increase your awareness of the structure and rhetorical tools of your own texts or presentations. 

  • advance your understanding of features related to your own work, and in this way become a better writer or speaker. 

Give useful feedback 

When giving feedback, there are a number of things to consider to make sure that the recipient of your feedback can use it to improve their work and draw lessons from it. Useful feedback is both constructive and specific, and it is respectful towards the feedback recipient and the text or presentation. 

Tips on giving feedback 

Give constructive feedback 

Giving constructive feedback means that the feedback is based on the existing qualities of the work. As feedback giver, do not point out all the errors and omissions you can find, but rather call attention to the potentials of the work and make suggestions for what can be improved – and how. 

Consider the process 

As feedback giver, you need to consider the process of the work. If you are to provide feedback on an early draft of a written assignment, there is no point in providing detailed feedback on wordings. Focus instead on the overall points. Conversely, if you are giving feedback on a text that is almost finished (or close to the submission deadline), it is not the right time to launch an entirely new idea or suggest a new structure. In short, make sure the recipient is able to act on your feedback, and that it is meaningful at the given stage in the work process. 

Give specific feedback 

Giving specific feedback means that you link your feedback to specific places in the text or presentation. For example, emphasise words, sentences or sections in a text that you wonder about or that you find particularly good.  

Specific feedback also means suggesting specific improvements, i.e. saying that "X could be better if you did Y or Z...". 

Give reasons for your feedback 

Always remember to explain why you think something is good or bad, or why you suggest a specific change. This also helps to make the feedback specific, and consequently more useful. Ideally, your feedback will be so specific that the recipient knows exactly what he or she should do. 

It can be nice to receive feedback that simply says "I think this is really good", but this will not help to improve the text, or to understand what was good about it and worth doing again. Therefore, when giving feedback, you should say: "I think this is really good because..."  

When motivating your feedback, you can either use your own reading experience or you can rely on specific criteria listed in the academic regulations or proposed by your teacher, for example. See the table below. 

Make sure your feedback is respectful 

Receiving feedback on a text you have written can be a daunting experience - especially at the beginning. Therefore, it is important that you create an atmosphere in your feedback group where feedback is about helping each other to improve, and not about putting each other down. Try to avoid that the feedback recipient becomes defensive; instead, make sure that he or she listens to your feedback with an open mind. 

As a feedback giver, think of your feedback as reports or suggestions, and not as an invitation to discuss the feedback with the recipient, encouraging them to comment on the feedback and defend their text. 

Moreover, when giving feedback consider the following: 

  • start with the positive feedback 

  • use yourself as a starting point, for example by using wordings such as "As I read the text...", "When I read this, I...", "If it was me, I would..." 

  • focus on the text and not on the author of the text 

How to receive feedback

As a feedback recipient, you will: 

  • gain insight into how others perceive your work. 

  • find out whether others assess your work as good enough to meet the requirements. 

  • get input on what you can improve in the future to avoid making the same mistakes again.  

Tips on receiving feedback 

Get feedback at an early stage 

It is a good idea to receive feedback early in the process, so you can incorporate it in your work on the text or presentation. For example, ask your feedback group for input on quick writes and rough drafts. Later in the process, ask for feedback on text you consider to be more finished. 

Always tell your feedback givers what kind of text you are sending them, so that they can adjust their feedback accordingly. 

Do you need help to get started on your writing? Try the "Nonstop writing" exercise, which is useful when you get stuck or need to produce text quickly. You can also try the "Unfold the assignment" exercise if you need help to develop ideas after deciding on a topic. Read more about the two exercises 

Avoid defending and explaining 

Don't defend or apologise for your text or your presentation. The point of receiving feedback is to hear other people's opinion about your text. Listen to their assessment – and then decide afterwards whether you want to use their feedback, or whether the choices you have made were actually made for a good reason. The feedback giver doesn’t need to know about this. When receiving feedback, you should: 

  • Listen to the feedback and take notes. 

  • Decide later, and not while receiving the feedback, whether you want to use it or not. 

  • Avoid engaging in dialogue with the feedback giver to explain your text. Your text should be able to stand alone. 

  • Not apologise for your text. It is part of a longer process, and no one expects it to be perfect. 

Let go of the text 

To receive feedback, you need to let go of your texts, even though they are not finished. Some people find it difficult to let their fellow students read their texts, especially when the texts are not finished yet. As a feedback recipient, you will eventually learn to be professional about your own texts, and the more often you are involved in a feedback process, the easier it will be for you to dissociate yourself personally from the text. 

Remember that the feedback is about your text, not about you, and that feedback is not the same as criticism. The feedback givers are collaborating with you to make your text even better. 

Use the feedback 

As a feedback recipient, your job is to listen and take notes. Feedback is a service, and at the end of the day, it is up to you to decide whether you want to use the feedback or not. Keep in mind, however, that if the feedback giver misunderstood something, other readers may misunderstand it as well. 

Methods for group feedback

Here are some ideas for different ways to receive feedback 

The feedback may be given orally or in writing; on paper or electronically. Don’t forget to take notes when receiving oral feedback or to record the feedback, for example with your mobile phone. You can also ask for the feedback giver’s notes afterwards. 

ACTIVITY

EXECUTION

3+3 

The feedback giver points out three good things about your product, and three things that can be improved. Then you swap roles, turning the feedback recipient into feedback giver. Agree in advance if you are allowed to ask questions regarding the feedback, or comment on it. 

Feedback burger 

First, describe three specific and good things about the product. Then describe an area that can be developed and suggest how it can be developed. Conclude with a general positive feedback  

Giving feedback in this way highlights the things that work well, and suggestions for improvements become more manageable. So remember all three layers of the feedback burger. 

If it was my product, I would... 

The feedback giver explains how he or she would move on with the text. Make specific suggestions in relation to theory, methods, language use, etc., so it is clear to the feedback recipient how he or she can improve their work. The method works for both oral and written feedback. 

Find the point of the text 

The feedback giver recounts in three sentences what the point of the product is. Present what the text argues and how the author arrives at this point. This makes it clear whether the text makes the point clear. Discuss how the point can be made clearer. The method can be used for sections or for an entire assignment. 

Recounting 

The feedback giver recounts the main features of your text or presentation. This can be by recounting the progress of the text/presentation or by generally describing what the product is about. This will reveal whether the text/presentation is sufficiently clear. The method can also be used to write the conclusion of the text or underline the main point of the presentation. 

Introduction/conclusion 

The feedback giver only sees and gives feedback on the introduction and the conclusion. The purpose of the text and how it is described becomes clear when you read the introduction and the conclusion together. The link between the introduction and the conclusion is crucial because the reader will often read these two parts first. Perhaps you or the feedback giver could read aloud first the introduction and then the conclusion. 

Margin comments 

The feedback giver notes down his or her reactions and suggestions in the margin while reading. For example: "This wording is good because...", "This argument is good because...", "I suggest that you elaborate..." or "I suggest that you move...". As the feedback giver, it is important not only to focus on individual sentences and words, but also to see the big picture and consider the overall context of the text. You get the text back with the feedback giver’s notes and you can ask questions about notes that you do not understand or would like to have elaborated further. 

Feedback on texts

Feedback can either be based on criteria that the text is supposed to meet, or on the reader’s own experience when reading the text. Usually, the feedback will include both of these elements. 

Reader-based feedback 

Feedback based on your own reading experience may focus on the impact of the text on the reader. For example, where does the text catch your attention and where does it confuse you? Point out specific parts of the text that trigger a reaction in you, or ask general reader-based feedback questions: 

  • How would I paraphrase the text? 

  • What is my first impression of the text? 

  • Are there any parts of the text I like better than others? 

  • What makes me like these parts best? 

  • Are there any points in the text where I get stuck or lose track? 

  • Can I point out what causes me to get stuck? 

  • Is the tone/style consistent throughout the text? 

  • How does the language in the text affect my reading experience? 

  • Does the paragraph structure support my reading of the text? 

  • Who is the text addressing? Is it addressing me or a reader with some other background? 

  • How does the use of examples or cases in the text affect my reading experience? 

  • How does the use of illustrations in the text affect my reading experience? 

  • How does the graphic appearance of the text affect my reading experience? 

Criteria-based feedback 

If you want to know about the specific criteria for different academic assignments, check the academic regulations or the department or course/programme website, or ask your teacher. However, not all assignments have specific criteria. In this case, ask general criteria-based feedback questions instead: 

  • What are the requirements for the text according to the academic regulations for the course/programme? 

  • Does the text meet these requirements, or is it on the right track? 

  • How does the text meet the requirements set by the teacher or supervisor? 

  • Is the text logically structured? 

  • Is the text well-argued – are all claims supported by evidence? 

  • Are citations correct and sufficient? 

  • Do references comply with the rules in force, and is the number of references sufficient? 

  • Is it clear how the author reached the conclusions drawn? 

  • Does the author take into account possible objections to their conclusions? 

  • Is the language precise and comprehensible? 

  • Are specialised terms and theoretical concepts used unambiguously and not more than necessary? 

  • Is there an overall problem statement, and is this clearly formulated? 

  • Do discussions and analyses appear to be well-considered? 

  • Does the text guide the reader by using headings, meta text etc.? 

You can download a handout with feedback questions for academic texts. Download questions for feedback (pdf) 

Feedback game 

This game has been developed to support structured peer feedback in groups: A group of students meet and give feedback on each other's texts – face-to-face. 

With this procedure, everyone gets a chance to speak and authors receive specific and focused feedback on their texts. 


 

Download and use the game 

Students can download the game (in Danish) for free and use it in their study groups. 


The 'Tekstfeedback - et processpil' game has been developed by Tine Wirenfeldt Jensen, Gry Sandholm Jensen and Mads Lund Jensen through Aarhus University. 

Feedback on oral communication

If you are giving an oral presentation in class or at an exam, feedback is just as important and useful as for written texts. First of all, it is a good idea to practise in front of an audience, e.g. your group, and secondly, your group can give you feedback and help you sharpen your presentation. 

The same tips apply, irrespective of whether you give and receive feedback on a text or an oral presentation (see How to give feedback and How to receive feedback). But when the feedback concerns an oral presentation, the quality criteria are different than for a written text, and the feedback recipient is even more vulnerable, because it is harder to separate the content of the presentation from the person giving it. Therefore, the feedback giver should be even more aware of showing consideration and respect. Read more about the specific quality criteria for oral presentations under "Oral communication". 

 

Peer feedback

Feedback is an integral part of academia 

When students give each other feedback, it is called peer feedback. This kind of feedback can be considered training for peer review. Peer review is an essential academic process in which qualified academics assess articles written by their peers in order to review and validate the content, methods and argumentation of the articles before they are published in scientific journals. In other words, the peer review process serves to guarantee the quality of academic work. 

In addition to the formal use of peer review in academia, feedback is also used more informally in a wide range of contexts in the labour market. This is why peer feedback is good training, no matter what you want to do when you graduate. 

What do teachers say? 

In the video below, two researchers share their views on feedback and peer review. They emphasise that peer review: 

  • is a good way to learn something about yourself as a writer. 

  • helps to ensure the quality of the text. 

  • safeguards that the text makes sense to others – not just to you. 

  • is rewarding, but requires that the feedback giver tells the truth and is frank in his or her criticism. 

  • is a sensitive process because the author is personally engaged in the text. 


See also

Digital Group Tools

There are a number of free digital services that your group can benefit from. Here is a sample:

  • With Dropbox, you can share documents, articles and empirical data.
  • Google Docs is particularly well-suited for writing and correcting in the same document.
  • Use Evernote as a unified workspace to generate ideas, write together and share links.
  • Make a joint to-do list using Microsoft To Do
  • Doodle can be used to plan which days you can meet farther in the future.
  • Create a private group or thread on Facebook and bring the latest updates, links and comments.