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  1. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Editing the hell out of someone's work - then explaining it gently

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Tenderiser, Jan 6, 2017.

    This isn't about critique in the way we think of it, but it is about writer feedback so I thought WF might have some wisdom for me...

    I was responsible for a publication for a voluntary thing I do (being vague because it's confidential). A team of writers worked on it.

    One of the writers sent me her contribution and then went on holiday where she was uncontactable. I read it and it wasn't anywhere near the required standard - poor SPAG, word choice, flow, clarity... everything. I didn't really edit it; I rewrote it, with barely a sentence left untouched. The graphic designer re-did the layouts and graphics, as they were also poor.

    When she gets back she's going to see a completely different document from the one she spent weeks labouring over.

    I'm going to talk to her as soon as she's back, before she sees the document, and explain. But... how the hell do I explain in a way that won't hurt and/or anger her? We have to work together in the future so I don't want relationships to break down.

    It had to be done, because I couldn't let a shoddy document go out to the public. But man I feel bad and I'm not looking forward to her finding out. :(
     
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  2. izzybot

    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    When I'm obliged to read something that's frankly kind of awful, I try to boil my problems with it down to just two or three main issues so it doesn't seem so overwhelming. If there's a specific grammatical issue that comes up a lot (like the common thing of using periods in tagged dialogue, or misusing commas), I'd mention that rather than just citing general SPAG issues, and comment on how silly and difficult English grammar is, anyway. Make everything you can seem as light and really unimportant as possible. "Just a few recurring grammatical issues" and "Some words shuffled around here and there to make things a bit more clear" and so on. Downplay everything.
     
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  3. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    I'm not sure that will work because the document is completely unrecognisable, and it's clear I didn't just have minor issues with it. :(

    Another issue is she is more than twice my age and doesn't seem impressed that I was put in charge of the project rather than her. I don't think teaching her grammar rules would go down well. Argh.
     
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  4. DueNorth

    DueNorth Active Member

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    Tenderizer, You set yourself up by the notion that you can tell her the truth in "a way that won't hurt." Don't try to pretend that it won't hurt--it will. And she'll perhaps be mad. That doesn't mean you can't get through it and work together. We've all been mad at some of the people we're closest to, and many of us who've been on work teams have been mad (and/or hurt by co-workers) and worked through it. Be honest. You would have involved her more directly in the re-white if she hadn't been on holiday--or maybe not? Maybe she doesn't have the skills for the job. If so, no one is doing her a favor by not telling her this. Honesty is generally the best policy.
     
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  5. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd be tempted to gloss over it, to be honest - something like "Oh, yeah, I made a lot of changes so the project would flow together smoothly - sorry I couldn't go over them with you since you were away."

    Like, focus on making the changes because it needed to match the rest of the work, without mentioning that one of the biggest issues was that the rest of the work was good and hers was crap.

     
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  6. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Putting myself in her shoes, I'd be pissed at first. No real way around that, and the anger would be from self-esteem rather than from your (Tenderiser) word choice one way or another. Then, I'd get over it and hold a passive aggressive grudge move on.

    So, there might not be a way to avoid hurt feelings, and I'm firmly in the camp that @DueNorth mentioned. I think honesty is always the best way to go. But, I also think @BayView has a good point. Gloss over it, but be honest with her as best you can.

    The one thing that would hurt more than someone rewriting my document like that is that person also lying to me about why. She deserves the truth. Her feelings are hers. If she gets upset, she'll have to figure out how to not be.
     
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  7. big soft moose

    big soft moose Contributing Member

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    I'd just be honest - not offensive but honest - "The article you submitted had these flaws, so we've had to rewrite it in your absence. I'm telling you up front out of courtesy" just be clear that the issues are with the article, not with her. (as in the article was xyz, not 'your writing sucked')

    I wouldn't try to gloss over or minimise if its going to be obvious when she sees the rewrite. Nor would I be defensive or open to getting into a debate about the choices made

    If she gets upset about it that's her problem, and if she doesn't want to be involved in the future because it that's also her choice
     
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  8. jjwiggin

    jjwiggin Senior Member

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    Does it matter?

    WOW! I hate to be in your shoes...
     
  9. Foxxx

    Foxxx The Debonair Supporter

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    Sometimes trying to gloss over or downplay something really obvious can back-fire, and leave them feeling like you tried to insult their intelligence.

    You don't have to be a jerk, but like the others said, be honest. If that is the person's typical quality of work, the last thing you would want to do is sugar-coat things to the point where she just keeps on making the same mistakes.

    That being said, in the long run you wouldn't want this to be a re-occurring thing: you worrying about correcting her mistakes, or her (possibly) poor reaction. So I'd address it now, adult to adult, and settle it. Because her reaction is a temporary problem, if a problem at all. How you're actually going to help her quality of work, so that it will improve going-forward, is a bigger matter.

    EDIT: Another thing I have to stress, is talking a lot about what she did *right*. I mean, unless it was truly that bad. But in human relationships, one of the biggest problems people have is being really critical.

    For example, when you clean the house all day, vacuum the carpets, scrub the floors, dust, wash the windows, do the yardwork, and your husband comes home and bitches about the dishes not being done, how does that make you feel? Not only will you be upset, but in the future you'll be less likely to go above and beyond like that.

    On the same token, mention the things this person does well, and start with that first. Even if it's only one thing. And when this person *does* start to improve and fix their mistakes, acknowledge it. Take them out and treat them to a coffee or something on a rare occasion. This gets their "reward" center in their brain going, and subconsciously they'll do these things more because they want to and less because you're telling them to.

    Just don't go doing those things all the time, or when they're *not* making improvements, as that would defeat the purpose.

    Just my two pennies.
     
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2017
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  10. Scot

    Scot Contributing Member

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    Be positive about what she wrote about. Be honest about how she wrote it, but summarise the errors rather than go through them line by line.

    If she is normally a better writer than this, she might simply have had an off day . . . or be testing your editorial balls (metaphorically speaking)
     
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  11. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    If I were working in a volunteer position and someone half my age sat me down and explained in any sort of detail why my writing just wasn't up to her standards, I'd be pissed. @Tenderiser was in charge of this specific project, but she's not in charge of teaching this woman how to write!

    If the woman seems open to discussion and if Tenderiser has time, sure, they could discuss the details of it all. But I really don't think there's any benefit to getting into the nitty-gritty in a confrontational way... writing is so subjective that the woman's unlikely to agree with a lot of the changes even if she's open to discussion, and she certainly won't be open if she's being told (by a youngster) that she did things all wrong.

    I mean, if these were clear-cut grammatical issues I don't think there'd be a problem. But if almost every sentence was rewritten, that's not grammar, it's structure and style. Not clear-cut at all.
     
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  12. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Unanimity requires compliance Contributor

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    A couple things I do with my students. On occasion I have students who are... really not well suited to English. I don't have specific training to identify the issues involved, but some of them seem to have learning disabilities, others seem like they may be on the autism spectrum, not sure, but they definitely have troubles with their writing that 90% of their classmates don't.

    With them, I emphasize that one mistake, made four or five or ten times, is one mistake, and thus teachable. For example, if someone always uses "there" as a possessive ("students who don't bring there textbooks will get bad marks in there final grades"), I let them know that they've only made one error. Check and see if your colleague has any repeated errors, she may not know about them.

    The other thing to do is to praise her on the research she did and the groundwork she laid, assuming that you didn't need to do that too. It's not something that I would do for a student, but once someone has done prepared a paper, so long as the English is on the right side of being complete gibberish, it's fairly easy for an experience writer to make the necessary adjustments to make it usable. "Hey, Veronica (her name's Veronica now), thanks for getting that brochure set up for us. I was slammed before, wouldn't have had time to get it together, so that was a big help. Your writing style wasn't quite what we were looking for, but the information was great, gave us what we needed to get it all together in the end."

    You're welcome to scream "you illiterate HAG!" internally, but make sure not to let your smile slip. :)
     
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  13. Sack-a-Doo!

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    The best thing I can suggest is: stick to non-emotional issues and present them in as unemotional a way as you can. The other responders are right; there's a high probability that she's going to be upset, but you can prepare yourself...

    • make a list of all the issues you addressed in your rewrite,
    • rewrite the list until it's 100% (or as close as possible) to being just facts (as opposed to opinion)
    • send it to her in an email message or print it out and leave it on her desk with a full explanation as to why the rewrite was necessary.
    • include your fears about leaving it the way it was.
    There could be blow-back, but by giving her all the facts as a communiqué, you'll give her the chance to get all the facts in one lump before any possible confrontation.

    Above all, own your feelings.

    Because in the end, she may have dashed it off the night before deadline and know it wasn't her best work. She may have expected you'd rewrite the hell out of it.
     
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  14. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do you guys accept unsolicited feedback on your writing? I don't.

    If this woman wants details, she can ask for details. But otherwise? If there were time for her to make her own changes, it would make sense to make lists for her. But as there isn't a chance for her to make the changes, I'd let it go unless she asks for more.
     
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  15. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    She's definitely going to demand to know why it was changed so much. And no, she won't want to hear the answer! That's why I'm trying to come up with an answer as tactful as possible...

    Nearly every sentence had grammar issues. :( Maybe not out and out errors like 'there' instead of 'their', but so badly constructed and phrased that you had to re-read to work out what she was trying to say. The other contributions weren't my style but I didn't rewrite them.
     
  16. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Unanimity requires compliance Contributor

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    Well, be polite but firm, and make sure she understands that you don't hold any personal animosity:


    :)
     
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  17. CallumJR

    CallumJR New Member

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    From a personal point of view, I'd love for someone to come along and edit my WIP for me ;)

    With regards to your current issue, I'd say there are a few things you can do to help contain her and ensure you're tactful about the situation: First, when telling her about the problems you found, try and make sure you're meeting in person, and that you're in a closed environment. Having lots of people around will cause her to get very defensive, however a closed environment where she feels more relaxed will mean she's less likely to feel as though she needs to jump on the defensive.

    Secondly, make sure you communicate the problem isn't with her. Mention how you really liked her underlying themes, and how you wanted to make sure they were included in the work, but that you needed to make the changes in order to ensure it came across in the best possible light to readers.

    I don't know if it's too late now, but if possible try and offer her the chance to have some input once you've done the edits. This might not be what you want to do, but it's likely to make her feel more involved if you're after a long term relationship.
     
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  18. Foxxx

    Foxxx The Debonair Supporter

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    Well, I don't know the nature of the job.

    But I doubt Tenderiser would want to do this every single time she is the leader of a project, and this other individual continues to put forth some lackluster, mediocre work--assuming it really was that bad. I don't know how often Tenderiser leads projects; maybe it's only once a year, in which case it wouldn't matter.

    However, if it is considerably often, I don't see the problem in trying to address these mistakes so as to *improve* this individual's writing, thereby making this whole process a lot more efficient. I wasn't talking about disagreements in style, but referring more to the individual's work ethic (if she had a habit of just throwing something together before rushing out the door with her plane ticket), and the individual's aforementioned grammar mistakes.

    As I also mentioned, one doesn't need to be 'confrontational' about it. Not sure about you, but that word has a negative connotation to it for me. It's simply something you need to learn to discuss like an adult in the work place. If somebody can't handle *kind* and *constructive* criticism, that's not really Tenderiser's problem. Because while it may have been "unsolicited", it's completely unfair for Tenderiser (or whoever the project leader is) to have to rewrite whole pages because a specific individual's work is constantly riddled with errors, yet could easily be better.

    If the person is expected to be a good writer, and needs to be able to present work of a certain quality and standard that is expected of their role/position, that's one thing to consider. If this is some sort of research team, then that's a different story, and one might follow the advice of @Iain Aschendale: "Your writing style wasn't quite what we were looking for, but the information was great, gave us what we needed to get it all together in the end."

    And *if* this is more of a research-team, then you're right; it wouldn't be necessary to try and improve this person's skills, as the audience was never going to see their writing anyway.

    I don't know the answer to that though,^ because I could only give suggestions based on the information provided in the OP. Ultimately, we're both doing just that, taking the same information and offering our different advice with the same goal in mind. I trust Tenderiser will be more than capable of deciding how to proceed, and I'm sure it will be more than the correct decision.

    Cheers,

    -Kyle
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2017
  19. big soft moose

    big soft moose Contributing Member

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    If its that bad, assuming its in your power I might be explaining why this writing role isn't suitable for her, and that therefore while you appreciate the contribution she's made to the project thus far, you won't be asking her to write articles in the future.
     
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  20. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Big, you're so right. Not in my power though : (
     
  21. Raven484

    Raven484 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Being almost twice your age @Tenderiser this is how I would take it. I had an assignment with a known deadline. I handed in crap and then made myself unavailable for rewrite. Someone fixed my work. The fault lies with me and I would try not to be too upset. I think I would be more embarrassed than anything else. I have a bad temper, but this one I would know is all on me. Hopefully this person is like this.
    If things do not go well, make sure you point out to them how you tried to contact them and how you had to put in the extra time for the finished product. Hopefully they will see reason and then go over with you what was wrong with their work.
    One question I have, did the others in the group see this piece and agree with you? Sometimes some backup can help in these situations. It takes the "your just picking on me" scenario out of your situation.
     
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  22. Sack-a-Doo!

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    If possible, @Tenderiser, I'd try to plan the expected confrontation in front of a superior.

    At least bring your concerns to a superior so the two of you can work out how to handle it together.
     
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  23. big soft moose

    big soft moose Contributing Member

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    In that case I would be going down the "well if I don't have the authority to manage this project properly you can find someone else to do it" route with whoever does have the power. There is nothing worse than responsibility without authority to make changes
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2017
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