Five Things You Need to Know About Being a Beta Reader

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William Tanner

Intern @ GoneWithTheWord

Beta Reading is an integral part of any publishable work whether it is fiction, non-fiction, computer programming or anything in between. But how to critique a work that isn’t yours is a real skill. Though many of us have experience editing other people’s work, most of us have never been taught how to present our evaluations in a respectful, coherent and professional manner. It’s a real art. Here are some tips to help you on your testing journey: 

  1. Be clear about the parameters. Don’t enter into a beta reading position without understanding what is expected of you. Does the person just want a surface evaluation? Typos, layout, etc.? Or is the purpose to evaluate the veracity of the ideas and the effectiveness of the delivery? Don’t hand back a document with only typos highlighted if you were brought on to evaluate the information and articulation.
  2. Be Positive. If you are going to be delivering criticisms of the work at hand, you need to also present the positives. This isn’t just for the Pollyanna perspective of providing some softening verbiage. What you don’t want is for the person who has read all your criticism to go and revise what works. You need to point out what is good and strong about the work so that those parts can be replicated and so that the creator of the work doesn’t change those parts in their next revision.
  3. You. We have all heard the expression that the feedback you give must be constructive, not just criticism. Most people believe they are doing just that when they provide feedback and suggestions. But have a read through your comments, if you see the word you, then you have probably not been constructive. By adding the word you, it becomes about the producer of the work rather than the work itself. For example:
    • Personal (criticisim): You have used too many adjectives and adverbs.
    • Constructive: This passage needs less adjectives and adverbs.
  4. Be specific. Don’t just say that a passage is weak and needs revision or tightening to be effective. Explain why it’s not working. Does it need an example to show the meaning? Does it need an extra piece of information to give it context? Is the word choice too vague? Be specific so that the next revision can correct the error.
  5. Don’t hold back. Sometimes when we are revising the documents, we hold back on our thoughts because we feel we have already said too much and we don’t want to seem too aggressive in our edits. A good editor will give all the feedback and have enough trust in the person who created the document to use or throw out whatever best suits their vision for the work. Have enough respect for yourself as the beta tester to voice all your thoughts and enough respect for the author to use—or not use—whatever is best for the integrity of the work at hand. 

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