Venting about reviewing? Make it harder for the reviewers to comp lain!

Subject: Venting about reviewing? Make it harder for the reviewers to comp lain!
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 21 Dec 2000 09:18:17 -0500

Ann Nonymous now does battle with the dreaded SME: <<I pointed out (to them
and to the project leader) that if I switched on Track Changes right at the
start, there would be a change bar beside almost every paragraph. "Not a
problem," they said... So: I did what they asked. I passed back the document
this morning. There is, yes, a change bar beside (not quite every paragraph)
about 70% of the text... Are they happy? Of course not. "Too many changes!
This is going to take me too long to review!" Subtext: "This is too much
like HARD WORK!">>

You can't please everyone all the time, and sometimes, you can't please
anyone anytime. <g> One trick that works very well is to make two passes
through a document, something that most editors do as a matter of course. In
the first pass, leave revision tracking off, and correct all the obvious and
simple errors that don't require author approval: typos, inconsistencies
(assuming you can confirm which of the several inconsistent usages is
correct), double spaces after periods, or anything that is spelled out
clearly in your style guide (e.g., using numerals for numbers greater than
10 and words for smaller numbers). Why make them spend the time approving
things that you don't require their approval to change? Adopting this
approach cuts enormous amounts of work; they won't be happy no matter what
you do, but at least they'll have less to complain about.

Now, turn on revision tracking and make a second pass to do the substantive
edits. Try a few tricks to make _their_ lives easier (many of which also
make life easier for you); for example, instead of deleting every second
word in a problem sentence and inserting a replacement (an exaggeration),
retype the edited part of the sentence entirely. Instead of requiring two
clicks to approve each edit (one click to approve a deleted word and a
second click to approve the inserted word), they require two clicks _in
total_: one for the inserted part of the sentence, and one for the deleted
part. Look for similar shortcuts as you revise the text; each one you
discover will save the reviewers time and will save you time too if you're a
fast typist; for example, I can usually retype a couple words faster than I
can position the cursor within the words and make several minor changes.
Where a change is widespread, insert a question upon its first occurrence
and ignore all other occurrences. For example: "Is this really MicroSoft? I
thought it was Apple? Make the same change everywhere using search and
replace." If you're right, they can do a search and replace and fix multiple
instances of the problem in a single step; if you're wrong, they only have
to see the question once, not once per occurrence. (Of course, you'll have
to teach them to use search and replace safely, but see below...)

But in the end, they're still going to be annoyed at having their writing
criticized, and you're going to have to figure out a way of getting them
used to dealing with this. One thing that can work well is education: pick
the one change you have to make most often, and spend 5 minutes with each
author, once per week, teaching them the problem and the solution. After
some time has passed, they'll stop making this mistake; if the problem's
really common, the 5 minutes you spend with each author will be amply repaid
in the time you save correcting it and the time they save approving those
corrections. Move on to the next worst problem, and so on. Even engineers
can learn if given enough encouragement and reinforcement. <gdrlh>

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"I vowed [that] if I complained about things more than three times, I had to
do something about it."--Jon Shear

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