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  • Writer's pictureBethann Garramon Merkle

Three things you can tell someone when their idea is good and the writing is competent, but the draft is not "working"

Tl;dr: If you're working with someone on a draft that is competently written but not accomplishing the goal (likely some kind of persuasive text like a grant, cover letter, pitch to an editor, etc.), there are three easy things you can do to help. And none of them involve pulling out your red pen. Read on for thorough advice, or click here to jump to the three things you should do to help.


A pair of hands snap a pencil in half, apparently in frustration. Around the hands are stacks of books. Beneath the hands/snapped pencil is a blank notebook and two crumpled pieces of notebook paper
Keep in mind that the writer you're helping has tried. It's now your turn to help them make their best effort better. (credit: Myriams Fotos/Pixabay)

This week, I gave writing feedback to two people who are not students in any of my classes. Last fall, I did the same for two other people who were also not students in my courses. All of them came to me for writing advice [1] because they were pitching something. Two were drafting funding proposals, one was prepping a writing query (e.g., to a publisher or a magazine editor), and one was framing up a big program idea.

In every case, the ideas these people were building on were great.

Better than that, the draft text they sent me was competently written. The writing was legible. It was coherent. It was not in need of much line editing (in the sense that they had subject-verb agreement, word choices were clear, punctuation was functional, etc.).

And yet, these drafts completely failed to accomplish their objectives.

Every single one was not even close to what the writer hoped to do: persuade a specific reader or group of readers [2] to give them money/say yes to a project or program.

Each of the texts I reviewed for these writers was ineffective for the same reasons. These issues crop up in nearly every writing project like this that I've ever reviewed. I suspect these same issues are familiar to you, too. I'll discuss the issues below and share specific revision feedback you can help offer to writers in this pickle; feedback that will actually help them revise for the better.

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