Do you permit SMEs to revise your drafts?

Subject: Do you permit SMEs to revise your drafts?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 1 Dec 2003 11:44:00 -0500

Patty B. wonders: <<In general, do you permit your SMEs to revise your
drafts directly, or to report their concerns to you?>>

Depends on the SME and the project. As a rule, they certainly have a right
(indeed, a duty) to revise what I've written since they're the only ones
expert enough to do so. They generally pass their comments to me rather than
doing corrections by themselves. This is simple QA: if they ignore one of my
questions or misinterpret what I've written or create an error while
correcting what I've written, the only way to spot and solve the problem is
if I get to see their edits before these are finalized.

Some guys will come to me to discuss the problem; others simply pass along a
comment that I then resolve myself. The "correct" approach is whichever one
is most efficient for the SME and you (collectively), with an emphasis on
the former: if you can make the SME's life easier, they're more likely to
"buy into" the process and give you good reviews. The harder you make their
work, the less willing they'll be to devote the time required to do a good

<<If you prefer that they report any concerns or corrections to you, how do
you collect the feedback?>>

We've moved to an onscreen-only form of editing and review, which means that
before layout, all revisions are done in Word using revision tracking. We
trust our authors not to turn off revision tracking, make a change, then
return the document--and that trust is justified because they know that if
they disagree with me, I'll try to find a compromise they can live with
rather than just overruling them. Once we move to layout stage (in PageMaker
generally), we treat the document as "locked", and conduct any required
final reviews on paper--the final destination for most of what we do.

<<We're using FrameMaker 6.0 and converting to PDF (because only the TW team
has FrameMaker) and the SMEs are up in arms about having to do so much extra
work... I'm hoping to determine a way to decrease their workload while
document control.>>

It's not clear what you mean by "decrease their workload", since reading and
reviewing your writing will take the same amount of time no matter what
system you implement. Perhaps the problem is that you're sending them too
much material at a single gulp (e.g., the entire document rather than just a
section) or that you're not doing your own QA before you send them the
documents? If so, send them smaller chunks.

Perhaps it's simply the fact that PDF is a lousy and cumbersome way to
perform any kind of substantive revision of a document? Even if each SME has
the full version of Acrobat, it's painful and tedious to add extensive
comments to a PDF file. If they don't have a version of Acrobat that permits
annotation, the job becomes really unpleasant.

If it's the inputting of corrections that is problematic, one solution that
works reasonably well in many situation is to export the Frame document to
RTF or other word-processor-compatible format so they authors can use online
revision tracking to return comments; you can then simply copy the
corrections into the master document in Frame.

A better solution (in my experience) is to do all your writing and review in
Word (which everyone has and which offers great tools for revision), then do
the final production in Frame once a document is approved. That two-step
process seems inefficient, but it's the way most high-volume publishers
(journals, university presses) work, and they wouldn't all be working that
way if the process were really that inefficient.

--Geoff Hart, ghart -at- [delete]videotron -dot- ca
Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada
580 boul. St-Jean
Pointe-Claire, Que., H9R 3J9 Canada

"Wisdom is one of the few things that look bigger the further away it
is."--Terry Pratchett



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