Testing your reviewers

Subject: Testing your reviewers
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Thu, 9 Jan 1997 17:26:01 -0600

Carl Milholland wondered whether it was ethical to insert
"joke" comments in a review copy to see whether the
reviewers are paying attention, and what to do if they
aren't.

Carl, I've done the very same thing, so that tells you my
opinion of the ethics. "Safety" is another matter,
though... you have to be almighty careful to ensure that
the joke doesn't survive into the final printed copy. I've
heard enough anecdotal evidence about this (on the editors'
mailing list) that I've stopped doing it, even though I
personally haven't been burned yet... a combination of luck
and skill, not skill alone.

If the reviewer misses blatant errors, then you've got to
have a talk with that reviewer's manager and ask for a
gentle reminder to be passed down to the reviewer. In my
experience, it's not something you can easily handle
yourself. All kinds of political boobytraps. You do need to
keep checking the reviewers, though. Signoffs (to accept
responsibility for a review) tend to be a poor option for
two reasons: (1) unless there's a significant consequence
for missing an error, nobody pays any attention to the
system, and (2) everybody makes mistakes sometime, so you
don't want to be draconian about the consequences.

One suggestion that often ameliorates the problem: You're
most likely to get a _cursory_ review if you dump 1000
pages on someone's desk and tell the poor sap to find all
errors, of all kinds. You're most likely to get a _good_
review when you send reviewers only a small portion of the
docs, a section they're more familiar with than anyone
else, and specific instructions about what to look for
("just parse the examples, and ignore everything else"). It
helps greatly if you can get the reviewers to "buy in" and
treat the review seriously.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Disclaimer: Speaking for myself, not FERIC.

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