Feedback, Dreaded Feedback


You have received feedback on your work. I have received feedback on my work. It can be tough. When I get an email from a journal I’ve submitted to my heart beats faster and I have to tell myself to wait. I think of all the things that are good in my life that won’t change based on this feedback. When I’ve rushed ahead to read feedback without first finishing what I was doing or giving myself a general life is good pep-talk, I get trapped in the rabbit hole of critique, constructive or destructive.

I tell myself no work is above critique. I tell myself there are so many ways to view something, there will always be a way to find weaknesses in any work. But this only helps intellectually. Because it’s MY WORK that is getting critiqued. I made it, I formed it, I reformed it, I edited, I went line by line, zooming in, section by section, zooming out. I made outlines and wrote, rewrote outlines and wrote some more.

And sometimes I go deeper…because my writing is for my writers, too. All the friends and family who have been successful writers that I look up to like my mother and father, best friends from college, and my wife.

I’ve blown it as an instructor giving feedback. A student once accused me of being like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I felt bad. I apologized. She admitted she takes feedback too personally. But me too. So I try to tread carefully, coach students up, not tear them down.

I’ve got a recent experience I’ll share on a paper I spent months on. It was part of my dissertation and I kept working on it. So really it was about 2015 when I began work on it. I submitted it in Jan. 2017 and got my first round of feedback in May. I worked on it, sent it in again in July. I got the second round of feedback last week. Let me share the soul-crushing and the affirming. Examples that show what I hope I never sound like and an example of what I hope I sound like.

The Mean: Below I have copied and pasted a few sentences from a reviewer who I hope to never sound like. Bear in mind, this was 3.5 pages of this, with some more constructive statements mixed in.

I found this paper difficult to read because I struggled with the lack of unproblematized statements, superficial citational justification, poor methodological description, and findings that do not have originality… I am not sure how the first part of the finding is unique to adult education or any specific sub-field of education for that matter. Providing supportive learning environment in a classroom builds community in the class, is a finding that has been revealed repeatedly in multiple fields within education and outside of education, such as Educational Psychology, Women and Gender Studies, Race and Ethnicity Studies, Instructional Design, etc. Therefore, I am not sure that this is a finding that one can really specifically claim within adult education as an original finding or contribution to the field… The descriptions of findings were extremely thin and superficial…If the author wants to claim that any mention of “being” and “change in being” is an automatic change and clear indication of the participant’s philosophical grounding and shift in ontology, then such conclusion needs to be argued in a scholarly manner instead of being presented as unproblematized fact.

The Helpful: The excerpts below are from a reviewer that I hope to emulate. Note, this reviewer had seen my paper both times I submitted it.

I appreciate what you have provided, but think you are “under-describing” something that is critically important… you have not made that point as emphatically as I think it should be made. You emphasize the importance of experiential learning and experiential exercises. I suggest to you that you need to disrupt the reader’s assumption that he/she knows what “experiential learning” means. In my review of your first submission I suggested that you pay more attention to the role of empathy. Although you have added commentary about empathy, you are not explaining the link between empathy and descriptive sharing of experience as clearly as you might. In general, I am looking forward to seeing your work published in the AEQ and congratulate you on a research project that appears to have been executed with meticulous care.

Is this just a case of me liking to hear that MAJOR revisions are not needed? Doesn’t someone have to say the buck stops here? I won’t claim to be unaffected by the idea that I could do a little work instead of a lot. But the second reviewer isn’t saying little work needs to be done. In fact, it would take quite a bit. But I’m encouraged to do it rather than discouraged from ever trying again. And that’s what I want for students. I want to show them that the work they’ve done is time well spent, but show them how they need to spend more to make their work its best.

Update June, 2020.

After the second revision and resubmission, I got this paper rejected. I submitted it to a lower-tier journal and it was accepted immediately, without revision! So the hard work I did as a result of the feedback described above paid off. It will appear in the Journal of Transformative Education.

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