FWD: Setting expectations for external reviews

Subject: FWD: Setting expectations for external reviews
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: techwr-l digest recipients <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 30 Sep 2000 20:34:53 -0700

<anonfwd -at- raycomm -dot- com> wrote:

>What we received was an "Heuristic Evaluation" which touched somewhat on
>the navigation and a great deal on the copyediting. There was no mention
>of anything that we had done correctly. I was greatly disappointed.
>I think there were some major communication problems between what we (the
>writers) wanted and what the outside company intended to provide. My
>supervisor is trying to assess if we should do this again. The cost was
>$4000 and we waited one week for the response, by which time all the
>copyediting and some of the navigation had been addressed. My initial
>reaction is that this was a waste of money, and we should never do this
>again unless we have a fully finished product, but I would like to draw on
>your collective expertise:
>What should we have expected from the outside agency under these decidedly
>poor circumstances?
>Alternatively, were we mistaken to ignore the copy editing and expecting
>too much from the outside agency?

No, I don't think that you were mistaken. Copy editing too early
simply means that you have to do it again.

However, even if you had copy edited, I'm not sure that you would
have had different results. Although there are exceptions (and I
would hope, but not expect, that a professional testing company
be among them), you can't prevent reviewers from copy editing,
even if you specifically tell them not to bother. I'm not sure
why that's so, but in my experience that's true of reviewers at
all levels of expertise. I wonder if it has something to do with
everybody's widespread illusion that they know something about
grammar. Or maybe it's a game of "gotcha" - a scoring of cheap
points to prove the reviewers' competence and the writer's
shortcomings. Either way, there's not much to do except live with
it and not take it to heart.

However, I suggest several problems here:

1) The review should not have been scheduled without input from
the writers. There seems to have been no reason from your
company's viewpoint why the review couldn't have been delayed
(although possibly, the consultants couldn't have fit the review
into their schedule if there was a delay). By making the decision
without input, the marketing coordinator didn't use the company's
money wisely and, just as importantly, was guilty of professional

2.) You should have put the description of the present state of
the help system in writing. A basic rule of corporate
communication is: never put anything that could be considered
offensive or insulting in writing, and always keep a paper trail
of anything that might make you and yours look bad, or is done
without adequate input from you. This is not only
self-preservation, but can help to correct problems later.

3.) The description should have been sent to the reviewers by any
means possible, up to and including blackmail and espionage. It
could, in fact, have been put into the help system itself where
the reviewers couldn't miss it. The most charitable explanation
is that, working blindly, the reviewers thought that they were
doing a service by copy writing. It sounds as though they were
dealing with a single person at your company, and had no idea of
who to contact to learn about the state of what they got - nor,
in fact, any reason to think they should do so. In other words,
rants and joking aside, they probably did the best they could
with what they were given.

Bruce Byfield, Outlaw Communications
Contributing Editor, Maximum Linux
bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com | Tel: 604.421.7189

"There was nothing but fever and ghosts in the water,
How will I ever be simple again?"
-Richard Thompson, "Simple Again"

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