Powerful peer review strategies

If you work regularly with other professional writers, chances are you've had the opportunity to peer review their work. This can be a challenging task. How do you find something valuable to add when the writer has excellent writing skills and a firm grasp of the content?

Here are a few things you can look for in addition to grammar and copy editing issues.

Incomplete or poorly organized content

The writer and SME will have read through the document many times. As a peer reviewer, you have a fresh perspective of the content. This may allow you to see areas that could be fleshed out more thoroughly or restructured for improved clarity.

Are any important details missing from the document?

Do you have unanswered questions after reading through the text?

Did the procedures match the logical order of the process, or could they be rearranged for greater clarity?

Keep these questions in mind during your peer review, and try to see the document from a user perspective.

Unexpected results from procedures

Sometimes two people can get different results from the same procedure. This is especially true when working on software documentation. Differences in the software settings on two machines can impact the data, and can produce entirely different results at the end of a procedure.

Perform all of the procedures during your peer review and compare your results to those described in the document. You'll help the writer catch any unexpected deviations so that users won't have to struggle with them.

Compliance with recent convention changes

If you work on a large documentation set, chances are your conventions will differ a bit for print documents, help content, white papers, and so on. Product names may change due to acquisitions or new marketing strategies. Boilerplate text may change based on decisions from product managers. All of these changes can be hard to keep up with.

Peer reviews are a great opportunity to ensure that a document is consistent with all recent convention changes. Even the best writers will miss these changes now and then.

Spell-check failures

For most technical writers, spell checking is as automatic as brushing your teeth in the morning. However, spell check doesn't catch everything.

For example, a spell check won't change "there" to "their," or "principle" to "principal." If a set of human eyes doesn't catch these mistakes, they will show up in the final product. Peer reviews are a great opportunity to fix them.

Random formatting issues

Authoring tools don't always format content in the most predictable manner. Pages will break at inappropriate places. Footers and headers will differ across sections. Tables will split across pages.

You can assist the writer by searching for such issues during your peer review. Make a checklist of common formatting issues that result from such tool struggles and use the checklist to guide your review.

The next time you get the opportunity to peer review another writer's work, try to search for the issues mentioned above. These guidelines should help you provide some useful feedback.

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