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5 Ways Technical Writers Can Ensure Successful Document Reviews

After a lot of effort and persistence, the first draft of your document is ready; the only thing left is to have it reviewed for content verification and completeness. Sounds easy, but there are plenty of challenges during this process. Let’s understand the challenges, and what you can do to ensure a successful document review:

1. Identify the SME and mandatory reviewer

The first and the most important challenge is when a subject matter expert (SME) or a mandatory reviewer is not assigned for the document. They will ensure that your content is correct, exact, and complete. Having someone who does not have expertise with the feature your documenting may introduce errors in the already documented content, so make sure the right people are involved in the review.

2. Get timely input from SMEs

Ensure you have enough time to capture and make changes by engaging the SME early for their input. Lack of participation from SMEs can lead to incomplete or incorrect content for a product, and untimely feedback can lead to rushed deliverables. SMEs are busy – and so are you! So, make it easier for everyone by blocking the time required for review and edits early.

3. Resolve conflicting feedback early

Having too many reviewers on a single document can pose a challenge of conflicting feedback and opinions. This situation can put the review cycle into a downward spiral, requiring much more time and effort than should normally be necessary. It’s important to identify the senior SME if there are multiple people reviewing the document, so that in case of conflict, they can work through the details to give you the most accurate information.

4. Get timely feedback from reviewers

It is often challenging for writers to set aside time during their day for document reviews. Technical writers often have many things on the go at once, and several deadlines of their own to meet. In addition, sometimes technical writers will prioritize development over document reviews. It is important to make sure that senior writers prioritize document reviews, as they are a critical part of the writing process.

5. Limit review cycles

All the challenges listed above lead to multiple review cycles. Technical Writers must put in extra time and effort in understanding comments. Several updated versions of the document may be required due to new comments by reviewers, or changing scope of a feature. Get buy-in from the team from the get-go to limit review cycles as much as possible. That means getting the most complete and accurate feedback the first time.

Final Thoughts:

Technical reviews are vital for effective and quality documentation. To make this happen, have documentation and its reviews listed as one of the deliverables – just like development or testing. This will place priority on the process, and ensure everyone involved understands the importance of proper and thorough reviews. Identify the right SMEs, and plan review cycles. This way, everyone knows what they have to do when, and can manage their time around other projects and deliverables.

Skilled Technical Writers are an asset to the development team as they ask the right questions from reviewers, understand what they want in the document, and finally filter the information to suit customer’s requirements.

 

Sarita Shah is a Technical Writer with Innovatia India. She has more than 11 years of experience working with content and has also developed the skill to review documents and edit them as per technical writing standards.

3 Comments

  1. Marc

    Great strategies, Sarita! Well said.

    Some thoughts come to mind:

    How to do timely review/limit cycles in a continuous delivery environment. It’s challenging to draw a line in the sand in that fast-paced environment, but your strategies remind us that it’s imperative to do so.

    Also, if reviewers aren’t providing timely feedback, you can’t go wrong with a call (set in advance as a mandatory feedback session and so they realize they need to look at the draft in advance).

    Great job, again!

    Reply
    • Sarita

      Thanks, Marc!

      It’s correct that in continuous delivery environment, it is difficult to always have reviews done on time. One way to have timely reviews or limit doc review cycles is by having a target date set for completion of reviews and addressing the comments. If Technical Writers make the reviewers aware of the time we have in hand to complete a feature, they will understand it and try to provide timely feedback – unless the feature scope changes.

      I agree that having a review meeting/call with all the reviewers is really helpful and saves lot of time of both the writers and the reviewers. However, to avoid conflicting feedback during such meetings, it is required that each of the reviewers take a look at the draft in advance.

      Reply
  2. Rakhee

    Nice article, Sarita.

    I also have a habit of setting expectations with reviewers. I find that the process has worked for me; especially in cases where I need the SME to pay attention to a particular part of the document.

    Reply

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