The way I ask for feedback really depends on what kind of feedback I want. If I have written a piece and need editing, for instance, I must approach someone very differently than if I want to see if my target audience likes my story/report.
1. For both kinds of feedback, the first thing I learned is not to wrestle people to the ground. People who have been nagged are much less likely to see the project through. There are exceptions to this rule, as my muse knows only too well, but usually I have to ask for volunteers–and then wait. It is especially painful waiting for online feedback because I have no idea the reception my work is receiving. Most critics do not even know me and many will not bother to comment, but I will never know whether that was because my writing was boring, there was too much of it, or it just was not up their ally. Any criticism receive from a complete stranger, however is valuable, because someone cared enough about the story or the writer to give an opinion, many times an honest opinion.
2. The difficulty in getting an opinion increases as the length of the story increases, especially if the story is not regularly serialized. Because it is so difficult to get an online opinion–or any sort of opinion–one should always submit a story to the scrutiny of someone one trusts not to sugarcoat their views, and hopefully, who knows what they are doing as well as being committed to finishing the reading. It also helps if they are given a reasonable amount of time to review.
3. To test the target audience I prefer to read the story aloud to them. (Although this is often not feasible.) This ensures that a) they actually finish the story, b) I have time to catch any obvious typos that pop out as I read, and c) that I can gauge response and clarify any confusing points. One pitfall of this method is that your target audience might not insult you to your face. I find that family members do not have too much trouble with this. Another pitfall that is that most stories go down smoother when they are read aloud, thus doing so might both invite verbosity–my personal difficulty–and make a confusing passage clearer than it might otherwise be.
4. Editing feedback is a lot harder to get because it is a lot of work. One of my challenges is editing. I can usually eliminate awkward constructions and check punctuation, but I have a real difficulty eliminating sentences which do not further my argument or contribute to the story. My general rule is less is more. Beyond that, I do not have much editing skill. For someone without skills or good friends who can edit, the best advice I have yet found is to join a serious online writing group–entrusting one’s work to strangers who may or may not have skill. Otherwise? I recommend reading lots of good work and taking a flying stab at editing the work yourself–but keep your first drafts. 😉
Thoughts? Opinions? Insults you have reserved just for me? I treasure them all, though some only in retrospect. Feel free to comment.