Hey designer! Here’s how to give great feedback to your copywriter

First draft didn't hit the mark? No stress! Here's what to do.

A note from Heydays: this post was originally published in March 2021. We’ve updated it with more current and relevant information.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about receiving feedback and criticism as a creative. I referred to it as a ‘gut punch’. Because, well, sometimes it really is!

As a fellow creative, I’m sure you understand the nerve-wracking feeling of sending away creative work for critique.

I’m not sure it ever goes away.

However, it’s a much easier process when the feedback you receive is clear, actionable and balanced. Look — I’m not talking about the notorious ‘compliment sandwich’. Couching every criticism in between two compliments? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

We know it can be really hard to articulate what you need your copywriter to change — especially if you’re not a writer your self.

Having a solid feedback process in place helps. In fact, we have our own process, where we guide our partner agencies step-by-step through our work and decisions and invite them to offer critique. Here’s how it works.

1. Read the copy from top to bottom

When you first start revising, it can be tempting to jump in and start making changes in all the places where your writer’s gotten it wrong.

Instead, I’d advise you to have a read of the whole body of work before making comments or changing things.

Reading the copy in context helps you to understand things that might not make sense when you first see them. By allowing the copy to work together as a cohesive unit, you can take in the full impact, rather than focusing on it section by section.

2. Give it a beat

Like all good things, copy can’t be rushed. (Unless we’re working on an emergency project and you’re presenting the copy in an hour — then skip this step.)

We always recommend our agencies read the copy, and then take a breather. Check in with yourself. How does it feel? Does it feel right? Does it feel like the customer’s brand?

Or does it feel off? Maybe it’s the tone. Maybe the information’s a little off. Or things have changed since you briefed the client and somehow the information’s been missed.

That’s okay!

Any good copywriter understands that sometimes we won’t nail it on the first try. Our job is to get as much information as we can to make it better.

3. Give feedback on the tone first

It’s much, much harder to nail a brand’s tone of voice than it is to fix up information errors. In our process, we often send a snippet to our partner agencies that we’ve written in their client’s voice to make sure we’ve got it right before we move on.

Sometimes the snippet is related to the work we’re producing — for example, an About page, or some social media captions. Other times, it may be completely unrelated so that you and your client don’t fixate on the information presented, but rather ‘the vibe’.

Sense-checking the copy for tone is a crucial first step and likely the biggest hurdle in working with your writer. If the tone is off, a good tip is to refer to your original brief and ask them to dial up parts of the brand’s personality to bring it in line with the overall strategy.

4. Write comments instead of making edits

When we send a copywriting draft to an agency, we usually record a walkthrough video explaining the decisions we’ve made and some things to keep in mind. The document itself will also be peppered with comments and questions that will prompt you to provide constructive feedback, such as ‘How do you feel about this word?’ or ‘Would this reference make sense to the target audience?’. When you take the time to comment back about something they liked, or paragraphs and phrases that miss the mark, it helps us zero in on exactly how to change the content to make it work for their client.

We also encourage agencies to make edits in the document if they feel like they need to, but to turn on ‘suggesting’ mode or tracked changes so that we can easily see what they’ve changed. Edits can be helpful if there’s terminology that’s missing or a word that isn’t quite right, but overall comments are much more useful when we’re collating feedback for the next draft.

5. Highlight what you like (as well as what you don’t)

Good copywriters have a thick skin. Like most creatives, our job is to do as much research as we can, and then pour our energy into a piece of work and hope like heck that other people ‘get’ what we’re trying to do.

Because of this, we’re acutely aware that there will likely be a number of things that you don’t like when you first read our copy. What helps us out is to highlight the things that you do like in the copy as well. As a client recently remarked to me, “When I read this page, I got really, really excited! It totally hit the mark.” That feedback gave me a really clear guidepost as to the tone and style that they were looking for on their other pages.

6. Share each draft with all stakeholders

Here’s my nightmare. (I’m sure you can relate.)

A body of work is finalised and receives a stamp of approval from the team who’s been involved since the start of the project. Cue the confetti cannons — we’re on the home stretch! 🎉

Until. One of the stakeholders mentions, offhand, that they’re sending along the work to someone else who hasn’t been involved in the project — at all. Sometimes this is an incoming decision maker, or a founder who’s fairly uninvolved in the company’s day-to-day (but has lots of opinions nonetheless).

To counteract this, we recommend you share each draft of the copy with all of the stakeholders and collate their feedback in the document. Doing this helps to ensure that everyone who will have input will be consulted, but that only the people involved since draft #1 have a final say. In turn, this keeps your project running smoothly, and ensures we can easily meet every deadline!

7. Finally, don’t feel nervous about providing feedback

It can be hard to give feedback to a copywriter. But, please don’t stress!

As poet and novelist Robert Graves remarked once:

There’s no such thing as good writing — only good rewriting.

A professional copywriter worth their salt recognises that each draft is a work in progress, that will bring you one step closer to the copy that you dreamt about when you started this process.

As long as you provide the best feedback that you possibly can (and throw in a little bit of kindness while you’re at it), your copywriter will continue to be motivated to give your agency their absolute best work. And if you’ve had a bad experience in the past, please don’t let that affect your willingness to partner with copywriters in the future.

Check out my post, How designers can get the best out of their copywriters for more tips on how to get your projects rolling out the door faster. Good luck!