Giving – and receiving – helpful feedback

For a course we recently needed to come up with guidelines for feedback on work products. This is what I suggested. Discuss! ;-)


When giving feedback, there are a few pointers that help making it easier for you to give and for the other person to receive feedback:

  • Use the sandwich-principle: Start and end with positive remarks*
  • Be descriptive: Make sure both of you know exactly what you are talking about.
  • Be concrete: Point out exactly what you like and where you see potential for improvement.
  • Be constructive: Show options of how you might improve upon what is there.
  • Be realistic: If you are working on a tight timeline, do consider whether pointing out all issues is necessary or whether there are points that are more essential than others.
  • Don’t overdo it: Point out a pattern rather than criticizing every single occurrence of a systematic problem.
  • Point out your subjectivity: You are not an objective judge. Make sure the recipient of your feedback knows that you are giving a subjective opinion.
  • Don’t discuss: You state your point and clarify if you are asked for clarifications.
  • Don’t insist: It’s the recipient’s choice whether to accept feedback.

When receiving feedback, there are also a couple of behaviors that make it easier for the other person to give you feedback:

  • Don’t interrupt: Let them finish explaining the point they are trying to make.
  • Don’t justify: Accept their feedback on your choices or actions without trying to make them understand why you chose what you chose.
  • Ask for clarification: If in doubt, ask what they meant by what they said.
  • Take notes: Write down the important points and review them later.
  • Be appreciative: Let them know you value their feedback and are grateful they took the time to give it to you.

*edit 2.9.2022: These days, I tend to not recommend the sandwich principle any more. Instead, I really like this structure:

1: neutral acknowledgement (“I see you put a lot of effort into bringing together a lot of information!”)

2: warning of a problematic aspect (“with so many different ideas, it is not easy to find a red thread”)

3: suggesting a solution (“provide the reader with a structure by …”)


One thought on “Giving – and receiving – helpful feedback

  1. Pingback: Currently reading: "Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice" (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006) - Adventures in Oceanography and Teaching

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