The wonderful Matthew Stibbe over at the Bad Language blog has crafted a piece on offering feedback to writers, which, alas, often happens without “lashings of love and praise.”

I agree with Matthew’s points and want to comment on one of them. He writes:

Feedback time isn’t writing time. Sometimes people ask me to come up with new copy while I’m talking to them. Like most writers, I guess, I need to sit quietly and try different things and let the muse guide me. When giving feedback, you may have to accept that you won’t get revised copy in real time.

Amen. I hate having to tinker with copy creatively while I’m on the phone with a client, or worse, on a conference call with six people, all of whom are brimming with ideas about how to “improve” the copy.

The vast majority of the people I deal with offer feedback kindly and then let me go away and get the revisions done. Of course, sometimes people don’t realize that writers can’t just look at one phrase or sentence in isolation. We have to make sure that the sentence flows within the paragraph, and that the paragraph is pulling its weight within the whole piece.

This editing business is serious work! And that’s why we can’t edit copy on the fly over the phone, with rare exceptions.

Of course the one advantage of attempting to edit a la minute is that you can immediately tell the client why his suggestion just won’t work!

Last week I was on a call with two managers at a high-tech company. They loved the article I’d written and had just one request: to add the name of one of their colleagues. I was told: “Say that Joe X architected the system.”

Architected?

Is that even a word?

I took a deep breath and answered: “Guys, I know we want to say what a great job Joe X did, but part of my role is to defend the English language, so I can’t say ‘he architected’ the system.”

Thankfully they laughed and replied: “Well, our job, Donna, is to bastardize the language.”

I composed a perfectly serviceable sentence about how Joe X “designed the system architecture,” and everyone was happy!

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