Writing is a communicative act. It is a reflection of the communication process and represents each of the process’s components in many ways. Yet, because many people tend to think of writing as a one-way communication, feedback can be particularly challenging for a writer to assess. The best praise for your work may be the sound of silence, of the document having fulfilled its purpose without error, misinterpretation, or complaint. Your praise may come in the form of increased referrals, or sales leads, or outright sales, but you may not learn of the feedback unless you seek it out. And that is what this section is about: seeking out feedback because it is an opportunity—an opportunity to engage with your audience, stimulate your thinking, and ultimately improve your writing.
You ask a colleague, “How was your weekend?” and he glances at the floor. Did he hear you? Was his nonverbal response to your question one of resignation that the weekend didn’t go well, or is he just checking to make sure his shoes are tied? Feedback, like all parts of the communication model, can be complex and puzzling. Do you ask again? Do you leave him alone? It is hard to know what an action means independent of context, and even harder to determine without more information. Feedback often serves the role of additional information, allowing the source to adapt, adjust, modify, delete, omit, or introduce new messages across diverse channels to facilitate communication. One point of reference within the information or response we define as feedback may, in itself, be almost meaningless, but taken together with related information can indicate a highly complex response, and even be used to predict future responses.
Carl Rogers, the famous humanistic psychologist, divides feedback into five categories:
These five types of feedback vary in their frequency and effectiveness. This framework highlights aspects of feedback that serve as opportunities for the business writer, as he or she recognizes feedback as an essential part of writing and the communication process. Let’s examine the five types of feedback, as presented by Rogers, in their order of frequency.