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Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

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5.1 Giving constructive feedback

Communication and feedback are key aspects of any collaborative work. The purpose of feedback is to provide information concerning the current position in relation to the end goal. Giving and receiving feedback is a key skill in your working as well as academic life, and is something that you are likely to do every day. This becomes more complex in an online environment as (i) there are no visual clues or tone of voice to assist the understanding of the feedback given, and (ii) often the environment will be asynchronous, which can make exchanging feedback a longer process. You will sometimes see emoticons used online (in messages or on forums), such as the ones shown in the figure below, to provide some context in the form of visual feedback.

An image of six drawn faces showing a range of emotions from happy to indifferent to unhappy.
Figure 1Six emoticons providing different visual feedback

Useful feedback is:

  • Goal-centred. It gives information concerning how near the recipient is to reaching their goals.
  • Clear. It is important that the recipient fully understands your feedback. If you use any subject-related terms, jargon or acronyms, make sure these are explained.
  • Specific and ‘actionable’. If feedback is vague it can be difficult for the recipient of the feedback to understand what they have done well or how they can improve.
  • Timely. Feedback should be given promptly so that the recipient can act upon it.
  • Constructive. Feedback should focus on the solution to an issue, rather than the presence of a problem.
  • Polite and courteous. Feedback should follow basic netiquette (see Box 8). Although it seldom happens, moderators can and will remove content that they decide is unsuitable.

Box 8 Communicating online – courtesy and confidentiality

Always treat others with the same courtesy and respect as you would in a face-to-face conversation. This is an academic community and you should feel free to be controversial and outspoken with your ideas, but never be offensive or hurtful. Do not write or share anything that is:

  • defamatory, obscene, discriminatory, illegal, incites hatred or could damage the reputation of your academic institution
  • confidential or infringes another person’s privacy; for example, you should not post someone’s contact details without their permission
  • sent to you privately and not intended to be shared with others
  • likely to make someone feel bullied or harassed
  • malicious or potentially harmful to others.

If you quote from an external source, always credit the original author as you would in other academic writing. And finally, don’t write in capital letters because it can look as though you are SHOUTING and is harder to read.