GUEST POST: SMART Feedback – How to design and provide effective feedback

GUEST POST: SMART Feedback – How to design and provide effective feedback

By Stacey R. Finkelstein

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Stacey @drstaceyf is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at Zicklin College of Business, Baruch College, City University New York. She received her PhD and MBA from the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business in 2011. Broadly speaking, she conducts research on consumer welfare. In one line of work, she focuses on processes related to self-regulation – how individuals prioritize short term goals (e.g., eating tasty food; wasting resources) and long-term goals (e.g., eating healthy; conserving resources). For instance, she has explored when healthy food labels make people hungry (1), when negative feedback is motivating as a function of expertise (2), and how relationship depth impacts the provision of negative feedback (3). She has also explored how risk attitudes impact medical appointment scheduling behavior (4) and the impact of choice architecture on consumer’s savings, organ donation, eating, and shopping decisions (5), (6). She is currently on the Editorial Review Board of the Journal of Consumer Research and the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing. Stacey previously contributed a very popular guest post on myths about feedback.

A recent series of conversations on social media centered around what makes feedback constructive prompted this post. In what follows, I will provide definitions for constructive positive and negative feedback and give a framework for feedback providers to use when giving feedback.

What is constructive feedback?

In our 2012 research article, we define constructive feedback as feedback that is beneficial and suggests corrective actions. In our view, constructive positive feedback contains information on strengths, correct responses, and accomplishments and avoids platitudes and needless flattery. Conversely, negative feedback contains information on weaknesses, incorrect responses, and lack of accomplishments while avoiding needless jabs to a person’s self-esteem (2). Thus, both types of feedback contain corrective actions. We note that we based these definitions on a body of academic literature in motivation (7), (8).

How do I implement constructive feedback in practice?

The academic literature on motivation has described certain types of goals that are more likely to boost motivation and increases chances of goal attainment – SMART goals (9). I think a parallel can be drawn for what makes feedback effective and likely to be acted upon, i.e., what is SMART Feedback. Note that aspects below vary from how SMART goals are defined to fit the context.

SMART Feedback should be:

S - specific

M - measurable

A - attainable

R – results-oriented

T – time bound

To illustrate, I’ll use an example from my college level course. Every semester, I have students give 2-3 short presentations in class that I video record and make available online. The goal is for students to watch their videos and learn aspects of their presentation performance that they like and aspects that they can improve on. When providing feedback on videos, I make sure to note specific instances where problems arise (e.g., at 0:32, 0:50, and 0:59 you use filler words). For the measurable criteria, I like to provide exact counts for errors (e.g., filler words, distracting gestures, slides that have too much text or graphics that are cut off from the presentation screen). I focus feedback on attainable and results-oriented outcomes. For instance, many of my students are first-generation college students with immigrant backgrounds. They are not likely in the time that I interact with them to alter culturally engrained presentation styles. I can, however, encourage them to speak louder (if they speak softly) or to use half as many filler words or distracting gestures in their next presentation as they did in their first presentation.

Finally, I am a firm believer in scaffolded assignments (hence the multiple short class presentations) because they enable instructors to provided time-bounded feedback (vs. having one final project, presentation, or paper where feedback is received once the course is over). After their first presentation and before their next presentation, I have students write a specific aspect of their presentation they want to continue and a specific aspect of their presentation they want to improve on. I coach students to consider setting a SMART goal that they can realistically accomplish with practice before their next assignment. As students know when they are next being assessed, they have concrete deadlines to focus on.

It is my view that aspects of SMART feedback can be incorporated in a number of educational settings and that SMART feedback is more likely to be constructive feedback.


(1) Finkelstein, S. R., & Fishbach, A. (2010). When healthy food makes you hungry. Journal of Consumer Research, 37, 357-367.

(2) Finkelstein, S. R. & Fishbach, A. (2012). Tell me what I did wrong: Experts seek and respond to negative feedback. Journal of Consumer Research, 39, 22-38.

(3) Finkelstein, S. R., Fishbach, A., & Tu, Y. (2017). When friends exchange negative feedback. Motivation and Emotion, 41, 69-83.

(4) Liu, N., Finkelstein, S. R., Kruk, M. E., & Rosenthal, D. (2016). When waiting to see a doctor is less irritating: Understanding patient preferences and choice behavior in appointment scheduling. Management Science.

(5) McKenzie, C. R., Liersch, M. J., & Finkelstein, S. R. (2006). Recommendations implicit in policy defaults. Psychological Science, 17, 414-420.

(6) Cravener, T. L., Schlechter, H., Loeb, K. L., Radnitz, C., Schwartz, M., Zucker, N., ... & Keller, K. L. (2015). Feeding strategies derived from behavioral economics and psychology can increase vegetable intake in children as part of a home-based intervention: results of a pilot study. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 115, 1798-1807.

(7) Trope, Y., & Neter, E. (1994). Reconciling competing motives in self-evaluation: the role of self-control in feedback seeking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology66, 646-657.

(8) Dweck, C. S., & Leggett, E. L. (1988). A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality. Psychological Review95, 256-273.

(9) O'Neill, J. (2000). SMART goals, SMART schools. Educational Leadership57, 46-50.