The beginning of a technical writing project may seem quite daunting. It can be difficult to decide how and where to begin, as projects differ greatly in terms of content and duration. However, incorporating the following basic steps to manage content review in the technical writing process, makes it more manageable:
- Map out the content review process in terms of time and the input required
- Organise reviewer availability
- Define writer responsibilities
- Decide on the number and format of reviews
Map the Content Review Process
One of the main factors to consider, particularly when undertaking a large-scale project, is the mapping out of an agreed time schedule. This schedule marks the various milestones and the documentation delivery date. In the schedule, it is important to include time for writing, regular content review, and the implementation of feedback from an external source, for example, an editor, a peer reviewer, or a Subject Matter Expert (SME).
Organise Reviewer Availability
At the outset of the project, the writer should ensure that the documentation milestones are clearly marked out. This means not only ensuring that writing time is included, but also signalling in advance the amount of time required for content review. Start lining up the reviewers and book their time as far in advance as possible. Agree with them how much time and the number of reviews that are likely to be required. Defining targets at the beginning of the project allows for more accurate time-scheduling.
Define Writer Responsibilities
Do not depend on reviewers to catch your mistakes. Edit your own work regularly to ensure that the content adheres to the correct style and is grammatically and syntactically correct. By continually reviewing the material, less editing and rewriting of the material is required at the final stages of the project when there may be considerable time pressures.
Decide the Number and Format of Reviews
Decide how many stages of content review are required. Perhaps three drafts are the ideal, but some documents may require fewer, while larger projects may require even more. It may be possible to break the overall project into phases or chunks – the completion of each phase could include time for an evaluation of the content to-date.
In order to ensure the reviewing task is as easy as possible for the reviewer, agree on a format for sharing review comments. This may mean agreeing to regularly communicate by email and attaching the documents, or alternatively, by using a web-based file-sharing system. Highlight areas that need particular SME attention. For example, if you are sending a draft out to a technical SME and a marketing department representative, you could ask the marketing person to concentrate on the product description, while asking the technical SME to focus on the task instructions. This saves time and ensures faster and more efficient review turnarounds.
Conclusion: Content Review and Project Success
In summary, to ensure the success of the project, it is important to know who will review the content and their availability to the project. Good communication between all stake-holders leads to more efficient and effective reviews. Taking time to incorporate content review into the project work cycle ensures that errors are minimised and the final output of the highest quality.