1024px-USMC-17456Ahhh review comments. Every writer and translator knows the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat when it comes to receiving them. It’s been a while since I had to do anything but provide review comments, and I have to say that I haven’t particularly missed being on the receiving end.

Now that I’m working on my third book, all of that is changing. I’ve started to receive comments on what I’ve written and, even worse (better?), I’m going to be publishing a draft of the book on a wiki, so that it is even easier for people to give me feedback.

I’m having some pep talks with myself in preparation for the opinion onslaught. I figured that as long as I am giving myself a pep talk, I’d share that pep talk with you, too. You’ve likely heard all of these (or have said them to yourself), but a little reminder never hurts. Here goes…

Review Comments are a Blessing

Let’s start with the obvious. Review comments are a blessing. Review comments strive to make our writing better, our facts more accurate, and our audience happier with our work. Heck, some would say that review comments make us better people. When someone takes the time to provide comments (even if it is their job to do so), they should be received with gratitude.

Review Comments are a Curse

Now let’s talk about how we really feel. Review comments are a curse. Particularly if you are a professional writer and have been at the trade (art?) for decades, the last thing you want is for someone to tear apart your toiled-over work. Can’t they just say, “Excellent! No Changes!” and call it a day? No. No they cannot. So we must get over it.

Not All Review Comments are Created Equal

Some review comments are more important than others. In my personal order of importance:

Technical corrections. If you create technical content, making sure it is accurate is really job #1. If your facts are incorrect, if you provide incorrect instructions, if you misquote, the results can be disasterous – even fatal – depending on your industry and subject matter. No matter what, take the technical corrections seriously.

Terminology errors. You know me, I’m all about terminology. There are many types of terminology errors. The ones you really care about are the ones that affect technical accuracy, have legal ramifications, and make-or-break the readability of your content. Other terms are important and should be changed where necessary, but they don’t fall into the critical category.

Grammar and readability errors. Why go through all of the effort to create your best work if no one can understand it? Generally speaking, rewording for readability is a good idea. That way your efforts aren’t wasted (at best) and you don’t get into those disasterous situations (at worst).

Stylistic errors. Some stylistic errors are brand-specific. Your company has a style and a “voice” that it wants to maintain. Some stylistic errors are purely personal preference. And some seem random at times. Try not to be annoyed. Make the changes that you deem are either necessary (to keep your job, for example) or that you agree with. Of course, if your boss suggests a change in style, you might want to focus a bit more effort on your decision.

I-Simply-Don’t-Like-This errors. Every now and then, a reviewer will be on a real tear. He or she will mark up everything in sight because it’s there. At least it feels that way. If you have the authority to ignore certain changes, and you believe they are either incorrect or insignificant, skip them. It’s a good idea to be able to defend your decision and it’s nice to provide the reviewer with a reason you didn’t make a suggested change.

Why Can’t We All Agree?

When I was a technical writer, one of the most annoying review calamities was receiving two, three, or even four sets of review comments that were in direct opposition to each other. Sometimes, I wondered if the engineers ever spoke to one another, the comments could be that far apart. Other times, it seemed like engineers were learning new information about the product from reading my draft. I called this the “blinder syndrome”. The blinder syndrome occurs when a person works on one tiny portion of a product and has no idea what the rest of the product entails until he or she reads it in your alpha draft. It’s amazing what can transpire when this happens. The only way out is to get consensus on the technical facts. Easy to say, harder to do sometimes.

Beware the Page-Turn Review

Getting all of your reviewers into the same room (virtual or otherwise) can shorten the time it takes to come to consensus on technical aspects of your content. These sessions are often quite tedious, but usually very productive. I think in-person page turns are best because you can bring cookies and create a more festive mood.

Just Because Someone Bled in Red Ink All Over Your Draft Does Not Mean You Should Become an Auto Mechanic

My best piece of advice to myself (and to you) is this: Don’t take it personally. No matter how many comments you get, no matter how many Adobe Acrobat notes you have to slog through, Microsoft Word changebars you have to deal with, or old fashioned red pen scratches you must decipher, keep your chin up. This isn’t about you. It’s about your content.




Val Swisher
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