Dissertation Guide

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What is the importance of feedback?

“Writing should almost always be a communication between writer and reader, and therefore feedback is the best way to sample how that communication is developing. Again, it fascinates me that academic researchers can be so rigorous in their methodological design at the outset of a project and yet they rarely do any sophisticated research on how their writing impacts on the reader, or which facets of academic writing work best for the reader. I mean, even politicians have opinion polls. Feedback is your opportunity for an opinion poll, but feedback needs a lot of thought as it is dealing with subjective opinions, motivation and emotion.”

“With policy report writing it’s very much a case of thinking about what you want the reader to get out of it. What does the reader come to this piece of work for? That’s always a good starting point is to think through two or three main reasons why the reader is coming to your work, and then you can almost forget about those when you get really involved, but you need to have thought about that in order to come back to that later, to structure things in a way that is going to relevant to the reader.”

“I’m involved in the feedback process a huge amount of time because I have a lot of staff whose writing I read and whose writing I rewrite and because I do a lot of joint writing with people who are by and large less experienced than me. In terms of my own writing I always try to get feedback on what I write. What I tend to get is feedback on substance rather than style, and I appreciate that. I particularly value feedback on style but I don’t get it very often these days. I certainly send out my material quite widely if I’ve got time. It’s practical constraints that tend to limit it, and practical constraints in the sense that it depends on what space there is between the draft and having to deliver something.”

“The other reason you need feedback is because you get so close to your own writing. Its the can’t-see-the-wood-for-the-trees thing again. I remember reading about a novelist who calculated that he had read one of his novels about ninety times in the process of developing it from an original draft to a final bound version. It must be difficult to come at it from a first-time reader’s perspective on the seventy-fifth reading or whatever.”

“It’s very difficult, I think, to distance yourself from your own writing. Simply seeing something through someone else’s eyes is hugely valuable for reflecting on what you’re doing because everyone will see it differently. And that’s true at any stage of your career. It’s like the author who published a 600-page word novel which had a great 150-page novel buried in it but nobody had the balls to tell them because apparently the author’s too important now.”