Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

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Succeeding in postgraduate study

5.2 Assessing feedback

Not all feedback is equal. The following activity gives you practice in assessing the usefulness of feedback, with the aim of helping you understand what makes for good feedback.

Activity 7 Assessing feedback

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

Imagine you are designing a software system to manage annual leave for a large company. You have been given the following feedback on its design from five different individuals:

  • A.I like your design, it clearly took you a lot of time.
  • B.I really like this. There are some really nice aspects. You seem to have addressed in your software design all the requirements. I would just like to say that maybe you could try thinking about how easy the system is to modify.
  • C.I don’t like this design. You haven’t spent enough time on it.
  • D.Your design does not allow for adding TOIL.
  • E.In your design you have allowed for adding new leave but have not considered how to input leave into the system retroactively (i.e. where leave has already been taken but has not been put in the system).

For each of the above, think about how easy it would be to understand what needs to be changed in the annual leave booking system.


  • A.This is not specific enough to be useful. The feedback would be more helpful if it said which aspects of the system were ‘liked’.
  • B.It is not clear here what needs to be done, as the ‘actionable’ part of this feedback is hidden in compliments. If you are new to writing feedback you may be tempted to do this, to make sure that you do not cause offence. However, it makes the feedback difficult to act upon.
  • C.This statement is not at all helpful. Even if the statement is true, it is not necessary to make it personal.
  • D.This feedback is unintelligible if you are not familiar with the acronym for ‘time off in lieu’ (TOIL). Acronyms can be used in feedback, but make sure they are explained.
  • E.This feedback is clear and specific. It is clear that the new annual leave system needs to have some additional functionality so that leave can be booked after the leave has been taken.

The first three pieces of the feedback given here were unhelpful as these did not suggest ways to improve the system. It can be a frustrating experience being given feedback that you are unable to act upon.

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