Example of a comprehensive sign-off sheet?

Subject: Example of a comprehensive sign-off sheet?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 25 Mar 2002 11:06:28 -0500

Ruby Isaacs wonders: <<Will you please help me find an example of a
comprehensive sign-off sheet? ... I need to ask the subject matter experts
to approve each chapter.>>

The list you provided seems to be reasonably thorough, but I'd add a very
strong warning before you use it: in my experience, reviewers often either
ignore checklists and guidelines entirely, or simply run down the list
checking off all the items blindly. It's generally far more productive to
explain the task to each reviewer and find out how you can help them do the
task most efficiently: online or in print? verbally (as a conversation) or
by returning a marked up document? And so on. Don't forget to check their
schedule to be sure they can do the review in time and when they expect to
return it; showing consideration for their schedule works wonders.

In short, find out when they can do it and what tools they need to help them
do it, then present the review request to them in that manner. The correct
approach will vary from reviewer to reviewer. And once they know you and
learn what's required of them, you won't have to keep having this little
conversation each time. The trick is to make the review a collaborative
endeavor and something they're doing because they like you and recognize the
importance of review, not because some anonymous colleague has dropped a
review on their desk when they weren't present to protest, and thus has
added more work to their busy schedule.

<<I've drafted the following sign-off sheet: Document Title, Chapter Title,
Review, Version number 1, Writer, Reviewer's name, Date circulated,
Completion date>>

Formatting and hierarchy are important in these issues, so you need to
separate out the things that are important to them from the things that are
important to you. For example, make the completion date stand out by making
it the first item in the list rather than burying it towards the end.

Whenever you send something out for a review, add a note to your calendar to
check back with the reviewer several days before the review is due (ideally,
at least a week) to ensure they haven't forgotten the deadline and that
everything's going well. Then you can come by to help them meet their
deadline (with a reminder or other assistance) or negotiate a new one rather
than just being a nag.

<<Review Guidelines: Please review this document for technical accuracy

That's easiest to do if you send them a flawless document, edited to
perfection. Not possible, of course, but at least you can minimize the
number of things that distract them and draw their attention away from the
technical details. Briefing them beforehand on matters of house style
("don't change this; the style guide says to to it this way, and the editor
will edit it to follow that guide") can work wonders, particularly if you
point out how much ignoring such edits will reduce their workload.

<<* Provide corrected/missing information if you know it, or suggest a
* If you encounter information that you are not sure is accurate, please ask
someone who knows, or test it yourself. Never just leave a question mark in
the margin The technical writer needs clearly explained edits. If you leave
just a question mark in the margin, for example, the technical writer will
likely not understand what you are trying to communicate.>>

Personalize this. "I/we need to understand why you've questioned something
so I/we don't have to come nag you for an explanation."

<<* Use a coloured pen to mark your comments directly on the document.>>

Although that approach meets your needs, it may not meet theirs. Writing
tools are a very personal choice; my vice-president, for example, insists on
using pencil. I'm not going to change him, so I just learn to deal with it.
You should also consider moving your editing online, so you don't have to
retype comments, and run less risk of missing them. Onscreen edits are a
powerful productivity tool (particularly in Word, less so in other

<< For additional comments, attach a separate sheet and reference the
comments by page number. * When making a correction of a word, or sentence,
always draw a line in the outside margin. * Do not spend time commenting on
spelling and grammatical errors. A technical writer will edit the document
for these issues. * Add any other changes you think will improve the manual.
All comments are appreciated, even if not all of them are used.>>

A checkmark in the margin may work better than a line, and neither is
necessary if the changes are marked clearly. I've often found that a
highlighter marker works wonders. The last comment should be deleted; they
know you're not going to use all their comments, and reminding them of this
may lead to "why bother commenting if they're just going to ignore me?"
reactions. If you want to keep it, turn it into a collaborative statement:
"All comments will be considered carefully, and if we don't understand why
you made a comment, we'll come ask you rather than just ignoring you." Then
use these mini-meetings to improve your relationship with the reviewer. For
example: "Thanks, I hadn't thought of that. We're stuck with it this time,
but I'll try to persuade the editor to change the style guide for the next

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

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