Is there a better word to describe what the supervisor says in this examle?

Someone has just finished a, by materials built, project and is presenting it to his supervisor. This person is very proud of his end result which he believes to be faultless and can't wait for the supervisor to give him the highest grade for it (however, his project is actually not so great.)

The guy who has built the project goes: "Here it is, this is the "name of project"." The supervisor goes: "I can see that (as in "yeah...but it's not as great as you try to present it"), but still, it needs to improve/would benefit the end result if you'd do it differently/more efficiently." (I.e. there is something about this project which wasn't done cleverly, hence it would have been better if a different/more efficient approach was used in building it.)

Is there a word that comes close to or describes what the supervisor has said, something which "needs to improve/would benefit the end result if you'd do it differently/more efficiently"?

  • 3
    Why do you think this is something that needs to be conveyed in a single word? It is likely that a supervisor may wish to give encouragement, guidance and maybe even a bit of admonition. Probably several sentences would be better to evaluate and steer the project to the next level.
    – bib
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 13:56
  • I am just curious if there is a word or expression that fits with such as the last bit that the supervisor in the example has said. Not looking for a word for everything the supervisor has said just what I quoted at the end.
    – user76935
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 14:04
  • 1
    Improvable or open for improvement ?
    – ermanen
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 14:12
  • The phrase "it leaves room for improvement" comes to mind. Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 14:13
  • It's improvable, i.e. has this potential, but the supervisor obviously expects his student to improve it. The supervisor doesn't just recognize it's improvable, but expects that it has soon improved (as the supervisor had expected that the student would have improved it as much as possible already, not that there is still room for improvement when it's time for grades.)
    – user76935
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 14:26

6 Answers 6


The term subpar means

not up to standard; below par [Collins English Dictionary]

This term would indicate that the project was unacceptable, that a better effort was essential. While it does not mandate a redo, that is often implied.

If you wanted to give some support to the effort, but indicate more work was needed, you could use the phrase first draft as illustrated on wordnik.com

  • I really think "subpar" is about the only really good single-word answer here!
    – Fattie
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 16:38

There's a figure in English, "to damn with faint praise." So you might say, oh, you damned him with faint praise.

English speakers tend to be a little excessive; in France for example it's possible to (simply) say "that is good" or "the result is correct." In most English-speaking countries you have to go "overboard"... "That is really good, it worked out just right, yup you really got it, that's terrific."

So. In English if you say something like: "Acceptable." , it tends to mean "hmm, it is 'just' acceptable, it is not really that great, I was rather disappointed."

bib mentioned another one ... "adequate". If you say something is "adequate" you're pretty much saying "it is OK, but not really that great."

I think "subpar" (good one bib) is the only single-word for what you are asking. But there are endless euphemisms for the same thing: "not quite there yet" "needs more effort" "a good first attempt" "not bad" "off to a good start" and so on.

  • Its interesting that the range of qualities advertised are often good, better, best.
    – bib
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 17:50

It's generally called constructive criticism. From Wikipedia...

The purpose of constructive criticism is to improve the outcome.

From what I can see in OP's text, the supervisor is more concerned with pointing out ways of improving the implementation of the project, rather than simply complaining about shortcomings in the current solution. In my book, that's a constructive approach.

  • Fascinatingly, you've come up with a word describing .... hang on, let me start again. The OP seeks a set of words, SOW, which are indicators of some particular concept the OP explains. Incredibly, there exists a term (which you have identified!), for that set SOW. Heh! :) There has to be a word for that...
    – Fattie
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 16:34
  • From now on whenever I ask a single-word question on here, I'm going to say: "Does anyone know a word for _ _ _; and also what's the word that set?" :)
    – Fattie
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 16:35
  • @Joe: I was trying to apply a "constructive interpretation" to OP's question. If in fact all he wants are specific examples of things you might say in a spirit of constructive criticism, the question is Too Broad, Subjective, and totally pointless imho. Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 16:46
  • Yes, you may have misunderstood me - your answer is amazing, mindboggling
    – Fattie
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 16:52

There are many phrases that a good supervisor might use to both give feedback that the project can be improved and encourage the employee, and the phrases employ certain key words, but the words aren't much use without the proper context. I'd normally say something like:

  • this is a great start - something we can build on

  • it's almost there, but I think we could enhance/[fine] tune/jazz up/tweak/refine this bit [and that bit]

  • I like the way this is shaping up - let's make sure the final result has X, Y and Z (list of improvements)

  • this is promising / has potential / shows promise / is something we can work with...

As you can see, most of these start by the supervisor showing that they consider the project to be ongoing. If there's actually been a hard deadline and it's too late to improve the project, but the supervisor wants to give some honest feedback to help the employee do better in future... they might say something more like:

  • these aspects work really well, but I was also hoping for X, Y and Z / I wanted something with more/faster/smoother X etc.

  • we've got a reasonable outcome here, but I can see some things to keep in mind for the next project like this...

If the supervisor is describing the project to his boss, say, he might be far blunter, saying the result was mediocre, marginal, adequate, reasonable, functional, or satisfactory. Saying that directly to the employee would be seen as discouraging and poor mentoring in a modern company.


The first word that came to mind was "bottleneck", as it describes some inefficiency in a process that is otherwise stellar. An example that I made up of a boss speaking about the report of an employee would be "A bottleneck in your proposal is the computer algorithm that you used to solve xyz; it works, but is quite slow".

Another expression I would use is "area(s) of improvement", as in "You have done some good work, but an area of improvement would be the algorithm you used to solve xyz" (see this similar Q&A for reference).


If you're looking for a word to describe the aspects the supervisor is unhappy with, I'd suggest shortcomings:

a fault or failure to meet a certain standard, typically in a person's character, a plan, or a system.

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