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I won’t lie. I groan, wince, and kind of die a bit inside when I see those three little words when I’m looking for feedback on a piece of writing…

“That Sounds Good!”

Ugh, what a nightmare.

Reader response sessions, or peer workshop days, often make me excited for the chance to receive educated feedback. Unfortunately, I seem to run into the same problem: feedback that simply states “that sounds good.” That last one makes me shiver; leaving me to wonder what in the hell can I do with this? Where do I improve? What parts aren’t clear? There has to be something else they want to tell me!

I remember from my first writing courses peer response days very well. Maybe this is because I feel robbed once I was given my first draft back. When I give a response to a peer’s work, I tend to spend a significant amount of time pouring over their draft while the recipient barely makes a mark on mine. Even though I felt confident about my writing, I still would get discouraged the minute my eyes fell upon that one, dreadful phrase: “that sounds good.” It could be peppered in with useful comments and suggestions, but I would still grimace.

In my experience, peer response has not always been very helpful. I asked some fellow peers how they felt about reader response sessions and we have come to the same conclusion. Peer workshops simply do not help; however I have found throughout my college experience that there is in fact hope – but not until I reached 300-400 level courses. Perhaps this is because it was not until then I was surrounded by other writers who take the craft sincerely. The fact that a draft “sounds good” is not up for discussion. Writers want to know areas of improvement, if the draft is clear and concise, and if transitions are used effectively, among other things.

Now that I’m out of college and writing in the real world, I finally feel like I receive constructive feedback when I share my writing. Writing in the workplace is a bit different from the classroom and I am lucky to work with people who are not afraid to voice their opinion about my writing. It’s very important for people to give feedback without feeling like they are tearing down the author, and I can understand how hard that can be at times. I often find myself thinking of ways to politely tell someone their piece needs work, but I try to remember how much I appreciate the honesty. It doesn’t come from a bad place – it comes from a helpful place.

I believe the biggest reason for a lack of response is that the reader is afraid to actually write what they really think. We are naturally concerned about others and their feelings, and the easiest thing to do is tell the writer that everything “sounds good.” One of the two people will walk away from the session empty-handed, and this should not be the case. “This sounds good” is a phrase that is generally unheard of and not accepted when it comes to reader response in these courses. The point of a peer workshop is to get feedback on a draft – this means the reader must question the writer. The reader must engage the writer to get the missing pieces. We cannot improve as writers if we are constantly told our work “sounds good” and we aren’t challenged to advance our writing skills.

(Photo credit: http://www.thepoetryworld.com/gallery.asp?ImageID=14175&Ink-Pen-Hand)