Consolidating Document Changes from Multiple Reviewers

consolidating document comments from multiple reviewers
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I set out to write a post today about tips for using Track Changes under the document review tab.  I’ll table that post for now because, honestly  the biggest timesaver on collaborative document review is to set ground rules for the review, establish the review process, and provide sufficient guidance for an adequate review cycle.

Next week I’ll return to this topic and dive into some time-saving techie tips for finding and combining all your reviewer’s changes (even sneaky ones that are hard to see like spacing and formatting).

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When you Send a Word Document Out for Comments and Edits to Your Group

This month I’ve been doing a lot of document review.  Just to make the projects more fun, I solicited comments from multiple reviewers.  What’s fun about that?  Merging all the feedback into a final document, who doesn’t love a good puzzle?  Just kidding, capturing everybody’s edits can be such a nightmare but I do have some tips that may save you time on your next document review cycle.

Solicit Feedback in a Structured, Specific, and Consistent Format

  1. Before you route your document out for review (or a path to shared document on the server) turn on track changes.
  2. Include a short bulleted list with your document review rules/guidelines. It is unlikely that everybody will read your suggestions and follow instructions but if at least one or two reviewers do it will probably save you some time when you are consolidating everything.  Here’s an example. Be polite but don’t make the list too long – keep it scannable.: Hi, please review this document:
    • Return comments by EOB, Friday August 2nd, 2013.  
    • Provide specific edits to the text. 
    • Comments such as “please revise.” “unclear.” “cite reference.” are not detailed enough. 
    • Instead, please directly markup and insert proposed changes into the text and also include your comments in a call-out.
  3. As soon as you get your first comments back, do a quick once-over to make sure they aren’t too provocative or broad-sweeping and then send that revised document out to the team with a reminder of your review rules.  Invite them to add their comments right on top of this new document or use the original template you provided earlier in the week, their preference.  If you’re lucky, one or two of your other reviewers may use the newly revised document making your consolidation easier. At worst, you were able to remind them of your rules, which they probably didn’t read the first time but may see this time.
  4. Send reminders a few days before the review is due notifying everyone that you are still waiting on comments . Reiterate your rules.

Common Issues When Consolidating Comments

I Would Have Written This Differently

Inevitably, you’ll have reviewers who aren’t reviewing content and are simply wordsmithing. Accept the valid edits that are proposed for grammatical reasons but I encourage you to reject the comments that are just “I would say it like this, but the message is totally the same.”  It is important to consider the perspectives of your teammates. however, it is also important to finish the document with a consistent voice, as efficiently as possible.  Do not to set the precedent that returning a red-lined document with edits that do not change content, only sentence structure will be incorporated.  If you take a hard-line on this when you initially review a document with the team you will head-off this kind of non-constructive feedback and busy-work in the future.  Tread carefully, and exercise diplomacy so people don’t feel like you ignored their input.  This is especially true if your boss is the one who has the penchant for the strike-through function.

We Need to Discuss This

Obviously, you’ll have a few reviewers who completely contradict one another.  Accept the comments that you can but unfortunately, sometimes in a large document review there is no choice but to meet and work through conflicting preferences in order to finalize the document.

Don’t Take it Personally

You’re at work and it’s a word document. Seriously, it’s just not that important in the grand scheme of things.  You’re going to receive flippant comments and errors. Roll your eyes, make the edits, move on.  Professionals resist the temptation to engage in a big argument; always try to maintain an effective working relationship (even if the reviewer is a total pill and just loves to pontificate).  If others take the time to provide you constructive feedback on your document, do everything you can to consider and implement their suggestions, provided they are reasonable and not incorrect or abusive.  Focus on the output and the deliverable; the priority is to finish the document and get back to work on the rest of your to-do list.

I’m Not a Technical Writer

How many people on your team are not technical writers but they love to help you out  with your document formatting?  They’ll pepper in carriage returns here and there, render your document styles unusable, deviate from the template, switch up the fonts (“just for variety”), and clutter up your document with page-breaks.  Don’t get emotional, just use the built in review tools to evaluate their formatting suggestions and only incorporate the ones you need.

What’s on tap for next week’s installment?

So to summarize the take-aways for today. Give your reviewers clear instructions on how they should format their suggested revisions and comments. don’t sweat the small stuff, and never ever “Accept All” changes.

Next week I’ll show you how to review all (but ignore most) of the formatting changes you receive from amateur editors.  I’ll also show you how to print out a list of the revisions and markup (just the edits and comments, in one easy-to-digest stand-alone list).  Also, we’ll take a look at the MS Word Compare function and I’ll recommend how to use it to verify you captured all the changes from multiple versions of the same edited document.

There are loads of other best practices for reviewing a document with your team.  What has worked well for you?  I’d love to hear your perspective. Leave a comment in the LinkedIn group or contact me via email.

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About The Author

Nadia

Nadia Bracken, lead contributor to the Lead CRA blog and the ClinOps Toolkit blog, is a Clinical Program Manager in the San Francisco Bay Area.

2 Comments

  • anonymous

    January 27, 2014

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    • Nadia

      Nadia

      February 7, 2014

      Thank you for visiting the blog regularly for updates. I hope you are finding the article about multiple reviewers capturing changes and revisions in a document helpful and that you will return again soon. Let me know if there are related topics that are of interest to you.

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