What's the significance of a draft?

Subject: What's the significance of a draft?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 5 Sep 2002 08:25:41 -0400

Anonymous wonders: <<When it comes to versions, how many rough drafts do you
have before you perfect a document?>>

That depends on the nature of the document and how much time I have. For
messages to techwr-l, for example, I usually write once and revise once,
though for thornier questions I'll save that first draft and come back to it
a while later after letting it ferment. If I'm using the process of writing
as a way to think through a conceptual problem (generally far less efficient
than thinking before setting fingers to keyboard, but that's the way my mind
works <g>), my personal worst-case thus far has been something like a dozen
passes through the document. But for straightforward documentation (click
here, open this, close that), generally no more than three drafts: once to
get the facts down, once to make sure I said what I thought I said, and a
final time to polish.

<<my boss pulled a rough draft from my cube that I had printed on Friday
(for my own review when I returned on Wednesday), and went through it. Of
course there were many errors. I was shocked to walk in this morning and be
confronted about this.>>

Sounds like someone is way too busy micromanaging and not nearly busy enough
with their own work. <g> On the other hand, this is an object lesson that
you shouldn't leave anything lying around your desk that you don't want
others to read. There's no privacy in an office.

<<I tried to explain that it was a rough draft not meant for any one's eyes,
but he/she wanted to know why I had even bothered to print it out. I suppose
that I could get with the times and edit online, but I find that I
personally edit better from printed materials.>>

Reviewing printed material offers few advantages over editing onscreen
during the writing stage; the one significant advantage is that it lets you
spread out the pages and see how all the parts fit together. But that's
personal preference, not a law of nature. The real point is that everyone
works somewhat differently, and that it's the results that count, not how
you get there.

<<We never edit each other's work here, we do not have an Editor, and I have
never had any one go into my desk and hunt around for incriminating draft

The real problem here is not how many drafts you should create, but rather
why the boss came snooping around. Have you done something to offend
someone? Is there a company policy of snooping? With no loomnig deadlines,
is your boss nervous that you're secretly writing the great American novel
rather than producing documentation? Look past the symptom (snooping) and
see if you can't find the root cause.

For example, in the latter case, you may simply need to do more work keeping
your boss up to date on your schedule and your progress towards completing
the docs. Alternatively, perhaps this was only a case of idle curiosity, and
the boss was appalled to see the difference between your draft and the (more
polished) final result they're accustomed to seeing; if the difference was
sufficiently great, they may believe that you're wasting time with endless

<<Do you edit online or in print and why do you prefer doing that way?>>

I find that I'm enormously more efficient and productive editing onscreen
than on paper, enough so that I heartily recommend that all editors take the
time to get good at onscreen editing. In my case, I make a final pass on
paper (after the layout is complete) to handle proofreading issues and catch
any edits I missed. You may not be that comfortable with onscreen edits; a
very dear friend who's been editing longer than I have edits primarily on
paper for a variety of reasons, including RSI problems. Given that people
have been editing on paper for several hundred years more than they've been
editing onscreen, it's pretty hard to argue that paper edits don't work. <g>
"Different strokes", as they say.

<<If you print the draft out on paper, do you mark it a certain way to
identify it as an editor's copy?>>

Nothing more than a date or version number, as appropriate. I don't see any
advantage to other labeling; if someone is going to read it, they're going
to read it and probably ignore the label.

--Geoff Hart, geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada
580 boul. St-Jean
Pointe-Claire, Que., H9R 3J9 Canada
"User's advocate" online monthly at
"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is
noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience,
which is the bitterest."--Confucius, philosopher and teacher (c. 551-478

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