Using feedback

Who should I ask to read my work?

“I read it myself quite a lot of times. My supervisor read it a chapter at a time. He’d seen the monthly reports.”

“I often feel it would be nice to have professional editing in the process. One of the things we don’t do very much now is use professional editors. Publishers don’t have them any more. The occasional times I get a really good copy-editor is valuable because they will from time to time send back a manuscript saying, ‘What do you mean by this, did you really mean that?’ What they are doing is picking up on a complex construction and thinking, ‘Isn’t there a simpler way of saying this?’ And the simpler way is almost always the better way of doing it. That’s hugely valuable.”

“There’s that sense that one tends to have a smallish number of people you can call on for these things; there are only so many times a year you can call upon someone to do it. They don’t have a lot of space themselves. But I would always try to get feedback.”

“The obvious person to read your thesis is your supervisor, but if your supervisor reads your work as often as you do then they will get as close to it as you and they won’t be able to see the wood for the trees either. Who else is there? Friends? Other staff? Relatives? Your peer group? This is where a support group can come in handy. Reading each other’s work can be part of the commitment. What I hear a lot from students, though, is ‘who’s going to read this thesis anyway?'”

“As a supervisor, I think you deal with that issue of, “‘Who’s going to read this thesis?”’ by being an enthusiastic and encouraging reader for them (where possible of course). There are lots of opportunities to get students to present their materials in forums with other students, to talk with other students and to go to conferences. When they’re a year or two in, you can begin signalling what they’ve got to the wider community; you can say, “‘Hey, it’s not just like me and a dog, you do relate to this larger community”.’ That is one of the requirements of a PhD, a contribution to knowledge that should be, in some way, distinctive, innovative, original or whatever (all tricky terms) and you can only do that if you know what the community is. So it is crucial to have a sense of fora in which the ideas and the materials of the thesis interim can be tried out. And that then suggests that there are people out there struggling with similar things and you can talk with them, and think, “Hey, they were interested to know what I was saying about such-and-such a thing and I thought it was just my own particular bee in a bonnet.” So obviously it’s a cultural and community thing.”

“Building up an array of feedback readers is one of the best things you can do as a writer. I’ve found that I prefer feedback from at least three people. When you get three opinions you can see consistency, contradiction and subjectivity, and it makes you think. You also realise that ultimately it is you, the writer, who has to decide on the overall conclusions, and only you, the writer, controls how to move the project forward. When it works well, feedback is very empowering.”

“I think it’s difficult to ask other members of staff, other than your supervisor. The pressures that teachers are under with all the other marking they have to do, it really would be a lot to ask of them. It’s another piece of work that they are not really obliged to do. You don’t want to ask of anybody’s time except those who are paid to supervise you. I suppose I also thought that it was outside of their area of expertise. I wouldn’t have said that it was outside what they’d be interested in because my research was on learning in higher education, so it would be interesting to anybody who was teaching in higher education.”

“Of course, you need to get feedback from people you feel safe with and people whose opinion you trust (even if the truth hurts). You don’t want to get feedback from people who are too competitive or who take pleasure in putting people down. And you don’t want to get feedback from people who are oversupportive or sycophantic. The best form of feedback comes from very experienced editors who find a way of helping you write the book you want to write rather than imposing their own idea of the book they want you to write.”