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writing & editing authentic communication
- Felicity Brand

The Positivity Pass and Why We Do It

Empathetic and constructive editing produces consistently better results and relationships over time.

Our approach to writing and editing at OSP is empathy-based and constructive. We don’t view editing as purely “corrective” nor as one-way street between writer and editor. Editing someone else’s work is an opportunity to share, teach, and learn for both parties. In this article, we explain why we include a positivity pass and how it benefits writers and editors.


Check out the OSP Writing and Editing Guide for lots more on our process and thinking!

What is the Positivity Pass?

The positivity pass sits within our broader editing framework. We use it to:

Technical Editing Process

The OSP editing process has six stages. Four of these are made clear in the structure of our Editorial Codes, which move from the largest scope (structure) to the most detailed (choice of words). Read more about our "Matryoshka" editing flow and editing codes.

We add two steps at the beginning to round out the process: 

  • Getting yourself into the picture by consulting the brief. (In writing, our process always starts with a templated creative brief.)
  • The “Positivity Pass.” 

When editing someone’s work, you can and will, of course, skip back and forth between stages, but they give us a robust logical framework to help us be kind, consistent, and helpful editors.

Why do we do the Positivity Pass?

Celebration and kudos

Give your writer a boost! Everyone likes to see that their work is recognized. 

It can be deflating seeing a sea of corrections, suggestions, markup, and strike-throughs when you get a piece back from review. 

In our editing process, we work in suggestion mode in Google Docs, and we do thorough, substantive reviews, sometimes making significant structural changes. It might end up looking like nothing from the original is there (even when it's not true). 

So the positivity pass can soften the initial impact of seeing a seemingly complete rewrite on your written work.

I see you. Keep doing this, please.

Writing is hard. Most editors are also writers and know how much effort goes into crafting a written piece. The positivity pass reinforces when a writer is doing something well, and we want them to continue doing things that way. It shows the writer that the editor has considered and recognized your effort and not just (nit) picking out all the things that could be improved.

And because we use editorial codes, it means you’re not just going with your gut or paying lip service. You need to think about why this is good, what is there about it that makes it good, and which writing principle does that tie back to? Is it SPOCK, is it FACT, is it FRONT, or CRISP? The editing codes compel you to tie the compliments to a writing principle. The positive feedback thus becomes transparent and even more helpful for the writer.

By first marking up the positive aspects, the editor can retain the best parts of the author’s work. It helps to know what to keep, even if that paragraph has to move or sentences around that phrase change.

How do we do the Positivity Pass?

It feels good to help other people feel good! As an editor, approach this process objectively and professionally, with positive intentions.

Start by noting the positive elements of the work. Ask yourself: "What are the overarching strengths, significant accomplishments, and compelling communication aspects of the work?"

Felicity Brand, a writer and editor at OSP, explains. "You read the piece through in its entirety, and you call out the pieces that are particularly well written and that really nail the brief." 

Using the OSP editing codes and reviewing tools, put a ‘++’ in front of the code and add specific praise to highlight strengths in the article. 

++COLOR  I love this turn of phrase, wow. 

++ METPH This metaphor about a log jam to describe the process is fantastic. Let's extend that across the whole article. 

Another approach is similar to the way some teachers or professors grade students’ work. Add a structured block at the top of the piece describing things done well.

Try it today

If you find yourself in a position of reviewing a colleague’s work, start with a positivity pass first, rather than just looking for corrections. You might feel initial dismay at seeing a piece you think is filled with errors. “Oh, poor me, what a lot of work I need to do to ‘fix’ this thing.” That missing apostrophe might be the first thing that jumps out at you, but put that on hold and purposefully look first at what you like about it.

Starting with a positivity pass can shift your perspective. It compels you to really consider, “Okay, what is GOOD about this piece? What has the author done well? I’m going to tell them that!” As an editor, marking the good parts helps you remember the “good bits” and keep them in, even in a more extensive editorial pass.

Positive feedback makes for better work in the long term and helps both sides learn, feel good, and work in collaboration.

How we can help you

We love talking about writing and editing. If you do too, maybe you should be our next guest on our podcast Communicate, Connect, Grow.

Alternatively, if you want to learn more about how to implement the positivity pass in your organization, contact us for a chat today.

OSP and our Authentic Communication Framework can help you plan and deliver strategically relevant content.

We help you grow: motivate your audiences to adopt your product, become active community members and advocates, or join you on your mission.

Contact us and kick-start your effective (authentic!) communications today.


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Twitter: @open_strategy

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Image credits

Yellow smiley balloons by Tim Mossholder, man giving thumbs-up by Johan Godínez, happy wooden people by Ivanna Vinnicsuk.