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Responding to Critical Feedback on Your Blog

Negative comments can be at least as helpful to our writing and blogging as encouraging ones, if we approach them the right way.

In an ideal world, every post you publish on your blog would be received with immediate, authentic admiration. The comments would flood in: “So well written!” “Best thing I’ve read all year!” “Wait, is this David Sedaris’ secret blog?”

Not sure how to get feedback to begin with? Our weekly Community Pool posts are designed as a forum to seek out others’ advice, and you’ll always have a supportive cohort of bloggers to turn to in our Blogging U. courses. You might also consider giving a blogging event a try.

In the real world, the stuff we put out there is read by people with different temperaments and tastes, who might each react to the same words in a startlingly different manner. And some of them might not be 100% sure that what you wrote is great, well stated, or even factually correct — and they might tell you that, too.

Ultimately, receiving constructive criticism is essential for our growth as writers and bloggers (or photographers, illustrators, poets…). But when first reading a less-than-enthusiastic comment, we might get upset and defensive. What should we do in such cases? Here are a few ideas to think about.

Lower your shields

The very fact that someone reacts to a piece you published — even if the reaction is mostly negative — is a sign of success. You moved someone to jump off the proverbial couch and engage with you. Isn’t that what blogging is all about (at least sometimes, at least for some)?

It’s best to embrace the possibility that comments might fall into a range of opinions, especially if you’ve tackled a controversial or loaded topic. In some cases, the range might skew heavily positive; in others, critical comments might stand out. This diversity of opinion is a core element of having your work in the public eye.

Read charitably

One of the great things about the blogging community is how supportive the vast majority of people are. Which means that, more often than not, even criticism is phrased in positive, respectful, and encouraging language.

Sometimes, though, you might feel the tone is definitely negative. In those cases, you’ll rarely regret giving others the benefit of the doubt — perhaps the reader was having a terrible day. Maybe they write in a language that isn’t their native tongue and their comments sound more aggressive than they’d intended. Maybe they’re just very passionate people, but not being in the same room with them, all you get is the edge in their written voice.

In other words, it’s best to assume that most people who comment on your writing respect your work and the fact you shared it with them.

Start a conversation

While the tips in this post from our archives are geared toward people leaving comments on others’ posts, they’re just as useful for people responding to comments.

If you think a comment might be unfairly critical or you’re not sure what the dissent is based on, one of the best ways to defuse a potentially thorny situation (and gain helpful insight along the way) is to engage the other in conversation.

As long as you refrain from being overly defensive and show that you genuinely care about your readers’ opinions, asking questions and sharing a more nuanced point of view — one that takes the criticism into account — is a great way of moving the discussion forward.

Weed out distracting comments

At times, you might encounter negative comments that are simply impossible to deal with fairly, as they’re clearly only there to derail the conversation or push the visitor’s point of view, which might not even be relevant to the topic at hand.

That’s where you should feel free to exercise your power to trash comments. Overusing (or abusing) this power will stifle conversation on your site, so you want to use it sparely. That said, keeping a troll around makes no sense, either.

Make your preferences known

Keeping a tighter leash on comments might produce less interaction than you’d normally generate. That’s a trade-off you should consider as you tailor a policy that suits you and your blog.

Finally, it’s crucial to remember that when it comes to receiving criticism, no two bloggers are identical. It’s completely within your rights as a blog owner and host to define the basic parameters of the discussion for people who pay your site a visit. This can take the form of official discussion guidelines (if you need inspiration, here are ours!), a disclaimer somewhere prominent on your homepage, or a warning at the top of particularly sensitive posts.

If you want full control of the tenor of conversation on your blog, you can also tweak your discussion settings accordingly, or even publish some posts only to a specific audience by changing their level of visibility.

Your house, your rules.

How do you address critical feedback? Do you have a commenting policy in place? Share your take with us in the comments.

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  1. I wish there would be a neutral button. Maybe even a dislike button. I although wish there would be constructive criticism now and then (OK more then than now). Unfortunately it doesn’t work like this. A made my own blogging rules a while back and decided not to play the “like” game anymore. I felt there was too much politics involved. I scratch your back, if you scratch mine. Meaning I follow you if you follow me. Often that translates into “I will like everything you post”. Especially at the daily prompts. It is almost hysterical to watch how they try to have the first or second post. Now I read the posts backwards. The last ones at first. Gosh I am complicated or maybe just plain weird 🙂

    Liked by 11 people

    1. Hear, hear, nonsmokingladybug! I have often read a post about which I truly have nothing good to say, but I don’t want to leave without letting the blogger at least know that I popped by. Clicking the “like” button in these cases seems rather dishonest. Why can’t it be turned into an “I was here” button?

      Liked by 7 people

  2. I am new to blogging and got one critical feedback from a reader who called me a fool and accused me on working against the nigerian government because of my post on the kidnapped school children by the boko haram terror group! I gently just thanked him for stopping by my blog and told him how glad i was that my writing moved him! He was left speechless!

    Liked by 9 people

  3. I do agree! Bloggers have shown me much love and support… and feedback has always been constructive, (whether it was feedback about my writing or my thinking…)…
    Contrary to what some people think, the world is not out to tear our work apart (at least not in wordpress!) so all in all, it’s been a very encouraging experience, especially for a new blogger (i.e. me) 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. What a wonderful, simple, solid yet sensitive advice.
    Yes, many a times we may get critical feedback from the readers.
    But, don’t you think it is part and parcel of blogging?
    And many a times what may feel as a critical; it may be just a difference of opinion from other fellow human being or blogger?
    Please correct me, if I am wrong!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. My official policy:

    “By leaving an idiotic, uncivil, or otherwise inappropriate comment on this blog, you grant me permission to mock you mercilessly.”

    Unfortunately, I haven’t had to invoke it yet. 😉

    Liked by 5 people

  6. I’ve only had one comment posted (in about 20 posts), and have only done so on one blog. In my social media posts, however, I’ve engaged in some heavy debates many times, and when it comes to negative feedback, it usually boils down to insecurity, and the only way they can respond is with ad hominem attacks. Constructive criticism will almost always have a ring of truth to them.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I’m quite new to this blogging business, and initially wasnt getting any comments. After posting in the community pool it got pointed out to me that there was nowhere to comment! So that was rectified, and someone else also commented on a post of mine about racism and tolerance slightly negatively, telling me I dont make a point… And that my blog wasn’t compelling… I wasn’t sure how to, or whether to, respond, but I did, and ended up in a really interesting conversation with someone! Sometimes it is just a person having a bad day!

    Liked by 4 people

  8. ANY feedback would be good; in fact I’m desperate for some concrit on my recent posts as I’ve had short stories rejected by Clarkesworld, Apex and Interzone magazines this year, also no interest in getting anyone to look at the novel I’ve been working on for several years. I’m starting to speculate that my career as a writer of Speculative Fiction is a fat bird that ain’t gonna fly…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I always respect other people’s opinions. I believe everyone has a right to voice out their thoughts. However I prefer that it is done in a proper respectful manner without resolving to insulting, name calling , tasteless jokes, etc. When I feel that the comments are getting more personal than they normally supposed to be and diverting from the topic at hand, then I will speak to the person and politely and ask to let it go. Everyone makes mistakes or had a bad day but mistake is only once. If they continue to be obnoxious then the situation calls for a more drastic measure.

    What I have experienced so far are people who expect more than I could give and become angry if I don’t conform. Or they are fond of dissecting the words I said/wrote and use it against me. There are others as well who try to insult me by ways of jokes that are way below the belt. Sometimes I wish there is a block button. It would be a lot easier that way.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You do have the option of adding specific people — either user names, websites, IP addresses (or even just keywords) — to a “blacklist” that will automatically mark their comments as spam. There’s a different list — “Comment Moderation” — you can create, with people whose comments you need to manually approve before they appear on your site. Both lists can be created and modified on your dashboard if you head to Settings > Discussion.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I did it last week but the person’s comments magically found its way back to my blog page. I must have done the procedure wrong. I’ll keep trying till it works. Thanks to the setting of manually approving each post, no one had seen the derogatory remarks.

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  10. While profanity and hate speech are never welcome on my blog, differing opinions and helpful criticism always are. By the same token, I want to be free to communicate my thoughts and feelings politely and honestly on other blogs. I find comment sections with notes like “Say something nice.” or “I love happy notes.” to be rather weak ways of fishing for compliments. Worse, the micromanagement of comments by a blogger leaves readers with a skewed view of the audience response and contributes to the polarization we have seen run rampant through social media. I say, let all voices be heard. Just remember to be polite when giving your opinion.

    Cheers!
    MG

    Liked by 3 people

  11. I tend to avoid controversial or hot-button topics on my blog itself, so I have yet to encounter negative comments there. I do try to comment often on the community pool, and I request feedback on my posts. I believe if you ask for opinions there you should be ready for a response you may not like. As long as any criticism is formed in a polite and respectful manner then we as writers must thicken our skins and accept it. I aim to soften my critiques or suggestions by pointing out something(s) that I do like along with noting what I might change. It is tricky, though, because when you are writing instead of speaking or face-to-face your “tone” can be misinterpreted.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. I have two blogs, the second is dedicated to science so when I am critiquing people’s cherished beliefs (creationism, reiki, alternative medicine) that can get people quite upset. I take a hard line with personal insults and trolling but for the most part, I pass comments. Rather than deleting them outright, I tend to edit out the offending bits and put warnings in red bold text. That way they can’t claim censorship in deleting their comment while you tackle the troll.

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  13. Dear Ben, I’m very grateful for this blog post because I have been grappling with the issue of how to engage in professional discourse about the politics of art (esp. controversies and sensitivities about ‘race’, racism, issues of identity and difference, etc.) with people who have expressed inherently racist attitudes, or used offensive (racialized and sexist) language in response to my blog content – or in response to reader comments I have contributed within the thread of someone else’s blog posting – simply because they are reacting negatively to me as a British woman of African descent writing from a minority (or ‘subaltern’) perspective. For example, one blogger I was conversing with (publicly in a comment thread) about a controversial artwork that I perceived to be racist – and they didn’t, reacted quite aggressively to me submitting a comment on the WordPress site that contested the stance being taken, and in reply, subsequently used extremely offensive language directed at me as a personal slur. I would like to formally report this person for what I perceive to be a breach of professional online etiquette, but don’t know how to go about it. So, any follow-up advice you can offer about specifically dealing with racism and sexism in the blogosphere (both in its overt and more subtle, oblique and covert forms) would be welcomed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Carol — thank you for this thoughtful comment.

      The situation you describe is a tricky one, since we don’t actually have a mechanism for reporting users’ comments, only offensive sites (this doesn’t sound like it would apply in this case, but you can read more about this option here and here). Strictly speaking, offensive language isn’t banned from WordPress.com-hosted sites. Of course, if you feel the language crosses the line from offensive to abusive and threatening, you should feel free to report it following the instructions in the above links.

      In this particular case, assuming that your comments have not prompted the person leaving these offensive responses to recant or retract them, I think your best course of action is actually to communicate your concern to the blog or site owner. They have the final say on the type of language they allow in their comments section, and should be concerned if a reader feels under attack or otherwise mistreated by another commenter. Their response will give you a good indication whether theirs is a community you want to participate in: if they address the issue, you’ll know that they try to foster an environment that accepts everyone and aims to make visitors feel comfortable and welcome. If they don’t, you should feel free to express your disappointment, either in a comment on that site and/or in a post on your own blog. And, to be honest, a site that doesn’t care about losing a reader because of offensive comments isn’t one I’d likely want to support.

      Does this make sense at all?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, this makes complete sense. In the past when I have received racist or other hate-related comments on my own blog I have rejected them via the moderation process. However, I will need to come up with a more public dialogue-based approach when responding to racial and sexist insults directed at me in the comment threads on other people’s sites. Writing to blog owners about perceptions of racism is potentially a very tricky thing to do, as pointing out that something someone wrote is racist to a person who has no personal experience of interpreting the nuances of racism (i.e. exercising the language of power, privilege, and exclusionary behaviour, etc.) can trigger defensive reactions and ‘shoot the messenger’ responses rather than (say) apologetic, appeasing or conciliatory replies and supportive interventions. I’m not sure why I hoped that blog spaces would somehow be different to the physical realm…initially I naively did, but don’t any more (heavy sigh!). I’m grateful, nevertheless, for the feedback and for the additional links provided on resolving disputes…which are helpful. Thank you, Ben.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. I so glad a blogger friend shared this with me today, because today I received my very first hateful/rude comment, and even though I knew the day would come, it still stings a bit the first time. But your comment, “The very fact that someone reacts to a piece you published — even if the reaction is mostly negative — is a sign of success”, put it all into perspective. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Criticism is the most fun part of blogging (if it’s constructive.)

    Maybe it’s all of the creative writing workshops, I’m not sure.

    I think the same can be said to the critic. To lower their shields as well and just be (kindly) honest. I think the most effective critics offer suggestions on how to change or be more effective so the writer can really grow.

    Great post!

    Like

  16. Great article. Blogging without some conflicting views being expressed to me will be boring. I love a good fight and I can usually hold my own in any verbal dispute so I say, bring it on!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. As is so often the case, the comments are as helpful and insightful as the post itself. I have a few varied thoughts on critical feedback.

    In one of the writing groups I’m part of, if someone doesn’t want helpful criticism, they’re asked to state that at the beginning of their post. I don’t necessarily think that’s useful to a writer, but the readers can at least abide by the request.

    If you live by the sword, you might die by it. If you respond nastily or aren’t careful how you phrase your criticism, don’t blame someone for coming back at you in like tone. There are ways to be helpfully critical and ways to just be mean. Remember that some bloggers are just beginning, some are using their second language, some are just starting to write/share photos/share thoughts.

    Don’t try to criticize too many things in one comment. I think it also helps if you highlight something they did well or that you like first.

    As for the “like” button, I’ve seen ongoing discussions about whether people like it or not. Some use is as a way to show they’ve been there, others only if they really like the post.

    On the other side of the discussion, I just did a post today on writing a better comment, slightly tongue-in-cheek, but not mostly. If you’re interested and would like to join the comments or just “like” it, here’s the link: http://sustainabilitea.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/thursday-thesaurus-the-art-of-a-better-comment/.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post, Ben.

    janet

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I have a published comment policy and I encourage comments both positive and negative. I ask only that commenters remain polite and respectful of others. Opposing views make for good discussions.

    Liked by 6 people

  19. I agree with you. Not all people will affirm with your point of you. But we, bloggers, must support the world we are into; that is possible through balanced comments. You can criticize to motivate others. Remember that there is an art for words everybody must venture to explore.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I just went through this on my blog. After addressing the topic on the particular post where the offense was mentioned concerning a previous post, I published a new post where I opened the issue up to a forum of community and readers and stayed out of it for a solid week. I commented twice to clarify some points so the discourse would not be misled and would stay on topic. At the end I replied to each commenter and waited a bit more before I wrapped things up in a new post summarizing what had transpired. It was handled well by all; those for and those against. Way more approved than disapproved and I ended up picking up 5 more subscribers and 3 or 4 more countries. At midnight three nights ago, I received my 25,000 views and the blog is two weeks short of being one year old. I do not use “publicize” and it is designated not engine searchable. Carefully written and selectively place comments on other blogs drive viewers to my blog and that allows me to pull the community I want to my blog.

    I think keeping to the high ground and not going on personal attacks made a big difference. Basically, I let the community try my case and prosecute or defend as they saw fit. I did not “take the stand” until it was all decided. My community affirmed me. That felt very good. I have been very selective in developing it and that has paid off. Those who are there want to be there, like my style and like how I manage my blog. I deleted NO disagreeing comments during that discourse and have only ever denied one comment when I first started that was thickly disguised spam. On my about page, I encourage them to call me out when they disagree and I will consider their point (just like I did), but tell them at the end of the day I’m the king of my little hill.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. It is always good when you get a mix of comments, shows your opinions cause a stir and conversation, which is what blogging should be about! Don’t take it to personally or as the article said take your shield down.

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