Turning document reviews around quickly

Hitting deadlines can be a real hassle when document reviews don't go as planned. Here are some tips for getting reviewers to provide feedback efficiently.

  • Provide a documentation schedule, so that reviewers can agree to review deadlines beforehand. This gives reviewers a chance to warn you if they are going to be on vacation or otherwise unavailable. You can then adjust the schedule or ask if someone else can review the document instead.
  • Make the due date clear so that reviewers know how much time they have to return comments. Put the date in bold print on your signoff slip and review email message.
  • Use a signoff slip. Make it look official so reviewers will feel more pressured to comply with your review request and sign off.
  • Try to keep your list of required reviewers short. One key SME from each relevant department is good. If others ask to be added to the reviewer list, ask if they can be considered FYI (comments appreciated, but not required). Too many reviewers will make hitting your deadline impossible.
  • For multiple reviewers on the same team, ask them to share a review copy. That way you won't have to sort out conflicting edits. They'll be able to see what other reviewers have suggested and sort out conflicts themselves.
  • Exclude any documentation that hasn't changed from the review. That way reviewers can focus on the content that needs the most attention.
  • If you must include all content, provide reviewers with a list of sections that have changed significantly.
  • Clearly indicate any questions that you have for the reviewers so you don't have to waste time following up later. Either embed and highlight your questions, or put them in a separate cover sheet in the review PDF or hardcopy.
  • If the review deadline passes and you still haven't received signoff from everyone, send out a follow-up message immediately.
  • If a reviewer doesn't respond to your follow-up email, send a message to their manager politely stating that you can't reach the reviewer and asking if someone else is available. (Careful, you want to keep things moving, but do this in a way that doesn't tick off the manager or the reviewer. Use your powers of rhetoric, your best Bill Clinton smile, and have some fresh-baked brownies ready.)
  • If a key reviewer is having genuine time constraints, follow up with the product manager about how strict your deadline is. If they've worked a few days worth of padding into that deadline, they might agree to let it slip if the reviewer is known for providing great feedback.
  • Use your phone if comments aren't clear. Or, crawl out of your hermit hole and go talk to the reviewer in person. The exercise and social contact will do you some good. It's also a great way to build your professional network. Waiting for an email response can waste valuable time if you're trying to hit a deadline.
  • Some reviewers may request multiple reviews to verify that you have made the correct changes. That's fine if the schedule allows for it, but try to limit it to no more than two reviews.
  • If you are still having trouble with delinquent reviews, meet with your subject matter experts and provide some written policies and procedures (for guidelines, check out this page) for the review process. Don't assume that the issue is a lack of willingness to comply; they may simply need clarification on how to handle their end of the process.

Remember, technical writing is 50% project management, 40% politics, and 30% writing. (And 0% math, fortunately.) Anyway, try to stay on top of things and your reviews will be less stressful for everyone.

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