How researchers get heard
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The Two Kinds of Feedback for Public Experts

Document comments are the devil’s work.

Oh, I use them to give feedback — all the time. Everyone does. And that’s the problem. Send your content out to a half-dozen people, get 300 comments back (not to mention a boreal forest of suggested edits).

It’s time for public experts to understand that they need two different kinds of feedback on their public-facing content:

  • Feedback that vets and validates your POV and your argument (e.g., Am I citing the right and best evidence? Are my conclusions defensible? Am I missing something?).
  • Feedback that makes your POV and argument stronger (e.g., Does my argument have logical flow? Is it rhetorically compelling? Do I have enough examples of what I’m arguing and are they convincing? Is my call-to-action strong?)

The second is something narrative experts such as myself can and should help you with. And that one may judiciously use document comments to convey.

The first you should get from other subject matter experts and people in your audience. But you should avoid getting it in comments.

Why? Why shouldn’t your readers point out your mistakes precisely by using a comment or suggested edit function?

Because when researchers use comments — and I have seen this thousands of times in my career — they almost never give precise feedback. They tend to make mountains out of molehills. They go on and on trying to interject what they specialize in rather than strengthening what you’re trying to accomplish with your argument.

In short, they don’t have perspective because they’re reacting as experts, not public experts.

You want their perspectives, but you want those perspectives in perspective. So ask them to send you a couple of sentences of reaction — a paragraph or two at most — telling you whether your argument works for them, if not why not, and if so whether it could be made even stronger. No comments or line edits, please.

For your part, you want to be able to take in their response at a glance and calculate whether you agree with them (in which case you think them and revise) or think their mountains are really molehills (in which case you thank them and do nothing).

Get your peer expert feedback in one chunk, not in a hundred paper cuts. Get your rhetorical and communications guidance from experts like me.