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Giving Effective Feedback: The Criticism Sandwich

By Barbara Gastel | Dec. 14, 2008  | None

This week I received some happy e-mail. “Your sandwich technique really works for letters,” wrote Alejandro, an international researcher who had recently taken a course from me. “I just published this letter in a good journal.”

The sandwich technique?  It’s an approach for giving feedback. In the sandwich, praise is the bread, and constructive criticism is the filling. The person giving feedback begins by praising strengths, then suggests improvements, and ends with further praise.

For example, in his letter, Alejandro began by praising the authors of a report for doing research on an important subject, and he noted their impressive results. Then, however, he noted that the research lacked a control group and so could not be conclusive. He ended by noting the importance of the subject again and calling for more research.

“To no avail, I used to be more aggressive in letters,” Alejandro told me. “One additional benefit [of the sandwich approach] is that the questioned author does not feel offended, reciprocating the same.”  Indeed, rather than acting defensive, the authors published a calm and informative reply to Alejandro’s letter.

The sandwich approach can work in many situations: giving feedback on drafts, peer-reviewing manuscripts for journals, helping students to improve their work, and more. In a class a few years ago, a graduate student commented that providing feedback in this way might improve his relationship with his wife!

Thanks, Alejandro, for telling me the good news and letting me share your story.

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