Technical writing reviews made easy

The review process is essential for producing accurate documentation. Great technical writing must be both accurate and well written, and there's no better way to ensure your documentation meets these requirements than submitting it to SMEs and other writers for review.

Here are a few tips to ensure that you get meaningful comments from your reviewers.

Ask direct questions

Often the best way to get feedback on a particular section of content is to embed a note to reviewers. For example, if you aren't sure about the order of steps in a procedure and cannot verify that order personally, you can embed a note to reviewers asking them to verify the order. Such questions allow you to make optimal use of each reviewer's time. Unlike phone calls, email messages, or personal visits, a scheduled review allows you to present such questions in a non-intrusive manner, and is less likely to be seen as an interruption.

Such questions should always be highlighted in your documentation reviews, along with a note instructing reviewers on the exact question you need answered.

Limit reviews to new or revised material

To make reviews more productive, avoid including material that hasn't changed. That way reviewers can focus on the content that needs the most work.

There will be times when all material should be included. For example, if a major overhaul of the product has taken place. In such cases even older content could be questionable and should be reviewed by those that know the details of the changes.

Set a clear deadline

Reviews of technical documents should end at a pre-scheduled time. That way you can begin to incorporate review comments without worrying about receiving conflicting edits at a later time. The due date should be made clear at the start of the review, and should appear in writing on the review copies or in the email message to reviewers.

If a reviewer cannot return comments by the scheduled date, simply schedule a second review. If this isn't possible due to deadlines, try to give the reviewer a few extra days to complete their review. Avoid incorporating changes before all reviews are received unless you absolutely must. Late edits could make any work you do obsolete.

Provide electronic copies

Printed review copies are great for later reference. However, it takes time to deliver copies, especially if you work on documentation that must be reviewed by people in different locations. This is especially true for companies where employees work remotely or telecommute.

To facilitate the review process, try to provide a PDF of the review document. That way all reviewers can access the PDF immediately and print a review copy. You may also wish to allow electronic edits. In such cases you could provide a copy of the actual source file (Word, FrameMaker, etc.) assuming reviewers have the software necessary to make edits electronically. If you choose this option, be sure to make good use of change tracking features. Electronic reviews allow you to share information faster, and they save paper.

Double check your reviewer list

Be sure to include the right people in your review. In addition to SMEs, you may need to include representatives from Support, Customer Service, or other departments based on the type of information that appears in your document. Include only those you need to get a full and accurate review. Too many reviewers might slow the process down. However, some content, such as system requirements, will require a larger number of reviewers to ensure accuracy.

Following these guidelines will help ensure that your content is accurate and clearly presented. The trick to reviews is balancing your need for feedback with appropriate project management. Reviews can be frustrating if you let them get out of hand. Help your reviewers give you the information you need and your users will end up with better documentation.

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