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Writing Feedback That Reflects Your True Opinion

Updated: Dec 7, 2021

By Ludi Yu and Yong-Yu Huang


For me, it’s always been easiest to point out what I like in a piece, so I often have to dig quite deep to find my honest opinion about the submission. It’s hard to know exactly what you think of the piece on the first read-through because you’re probably not going to notice things that need to be fixed! Only after you’ve truly become acquainted with the piece can you start analyzing each line and asking yourself what works and doesn’t work, the most crucial step to writing honest feedback.

On the flipside, reading through the piece once or twice and then rushing to write your commentary probably isn’t the smartest thing to do unless the piece is quite easy to understand without many read-overs. Most pieces submitted to Polyphony are quite complex, though. It’s too difficult on the first or second run-through to realize what opinions you hold on the piece, much less type honest, meaningful commentary out.

The most optimal yet difficult approach to adopt is knowing when to stop or re-read the piece— something I like to call “editor’s intuition.” Using this intuition, I can often get a pretty good sense of whether my opinions have the ability to evolve further with further read-throughs of the piece. If I don’t think they’ll change, I’ll start writing my commentary, but otherwise, I’ll read through the piece a couple more times and try to provoke additional thoughts. This seems like pretty vague advice but it’ll become easier to use with more practice!

Another strategy is to write down all your initial impressions and then mark them up as you re-read. That way, you’ll be able to see how your understanding has changed–– perhaps you might even want to tell the author something along the lines of, “At first, I interpreted … as …, but now, I think of it like …” I like to do this with poetry, especially since there are often little turns of phrase and instances of wordplay going on that take shape and continue to evolve as you continue examining the piece. It doesn’t hurt to try–– after all, the delete key is always there if you need it!

While I’ve already touched base on the importance of re-reading, it’s also important to discuss how to analyze submissions in order to form and articulate your own opinions about the piece (what it could improve on, what it succeeds in doing, what is in or out of place, whether you want to accept or reject it, etc.) Understanding what each line is trying to say and how it contributes to the overall idea of the piece, and then thinking of ways to optimize each line’s contribution to this overall theme is absolutely necessary to realize your honest opinions about the piece. Is this word or literary device out of place? Is there a better way to phrase this? Is there something else that can be added to make the piece more cohesive? What other work might this piece remind of? Sometimes, it’s an excellent way to give the writer perspective on how you’re perceiving their work if you provide an alternate frame of reference, like a comparison to a wider-known piece. There are obviously other questions to ask yourself when trying to unveil your opinions on a submission, but these are the ones I personally tend to default to. Without realizing your honest opinions about what you’re reading, how are you going to write commentary that reflects your genuine thoughts about the piece?

The name of the game for us editors is to help writers improve by providing commentary on what works and what doesn’t— how can we help without asking ourselves how we feel about the piece and articulating those thoughts?

Best of luck editing!


Ludi Yu is a Senior Editor at Polyphony Lit and a blogger at Voices.

Yong-Yu Huang is an Executive Editor at Polyphony Lit and a blogger at Voices.

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