4 Reasons Why Written Comments Beat Oral Ones

Written comments are better than oral comments

Content marketing projects live and die on review loops. While marketers like to talk about changes on a live call, writers prefer to see written comments.

Baumgardner, our staff writer, has experience on this topic and has asked for blog space to weigh in on it.

“Why do the reviewers want to set up a call and talk about the piece?” he asks. “I’d rather they just redline the draft and send it back to me with the text as they want to see it.”

His goal, of course, is to deliver to reviewers the high-quality marketing content they want, using the terms they want. Having them mark up the draft themselves seems like the most direct route from A to B.

Four advantages of written comments

In the spirit of meeting their need for accuracy and precision, Baumgardner sees these four advantages to written comments and changes, rather than oral ones:

  1. No ambiguity. That’s pretty obvious. If you strike the word “approach” and replace it with “solution,” then I know your preference and I can propagate it through all of the work I do for you. If you write, “Title needs to convey automakers’ sense of urgency,” then I know what you want me to change and how you want me to change it. When you put your comments and changes in writing, it shows me how you would like the piece to look if you were writing it. That goes a longer way toward helping me get you what you want than if you just talk about it.
  2. The reviewers themselves have to do some of the work. It may seem a bit perverse, given that you’re paying the writers to write, but it’s good for the process when reviewers put some work into it. Most writers don’t write; they suggest. The combination of the writers’ suggestions and the reviewers’ reactions results in a better product.
  3. It makes things go faster. Baumgardner is for anything that accelerates the process of getting from project-start to project-end successfully. To the extent that written comments get the point across to him more efficiently, it helps ensure that reviewers also want to keep things moving. As Alvy Singer (in “Annie Hall”) might have put it, the writer-client “relationship is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.” You don’t want that fate to befall your project.
  4. It shows that you care. When reviewers take the time to go through a draft with a red pen or revision marks, it shows Baumgardner that he’s not working in complete isolation. When he sees reviewers working on the piece, it makes him want to put more work into it. Conversely, when reviewers complain vaguely over the phone, it suggests to Baumgardner that what he’s working on is not very high on their list of priorities.

Spoken like a true writer

“That is certainly the perspective of the writer,” I tell Baumgartner. “But not everybody is a writer.”

And that’s the rub.

First, people hire a writer precisely because they don’t have the time or desire to write. They’d usually prefer to keep plenty of distance between themselves and writing. To them, providing written comments is too much like writing, so they don’t want to do it.

Then, many people know what they like, but they don’t know what they want. Or maybe they just don’t know how to ask for it. Either way, the sausage making isn’t for them; they just want the flavor at the end of the process.

Finally, some clients are more comfortable and adept at providing oral feedback than written comments. It’s a function of their personality type or the right-brain/left-brain dichotomy.

“Oh, well,” concedes Baumgardner, “as long as they let me record the conversation and charge extra for it, I can work that way. But it still doesn’t get as close to the reviewer’s target as written comments do.”

artwork credit: Charles Napier Hemy


Author: John White

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a content marketing writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Download his eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Content Marketing Writer.”