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Managing feedback deja vu

January 24, 2010

Early in my technical writing career, I remember wishing for expert feedback to validate my work, tell me I was on the right track, that I’d written the right information.  Back then, the best we could hope for was a good copy edit to eradicate typos because access to qualified subject matter experts was at a premium.

Today, I am fortunate to be part of a team that adheres to a proven process, which prescribes a series of reviews during development. A peer review ensures I follow departmental standards. A technical review ensures I’ve written the right information, correct and complete. A quality assurance team tests the information I’ve written against a working version of the product and identifies problems and gaps. From each review cycle, I receive draft upon draft of suggested revisions.

Talk about too much information…

It’s great when somebody identifies an error. But what happens when what’s identified isn’t black or white but one of a few dozen shades of gray?

Obviously, I don’t know it’s a gray area at first. I simply make the revision.

And then, change it back.  And, change it once more.

I was astonished to learn that people disagree over what’s ‘correct’ in technical information.  I’ve also learned the limits of my memory. While I certainly remember changing the same bit of text three and four times over, I discovered I had no capacity for remembering who told me to change it.

Frustration mounted. I was a hamster on a wheel, running furiously and getting nowhere.

In desperation, I looked for ways to log and track who revised each content block. I think of it as meta-content. I used to embed hidden text, but learned it wasn’t hidden from the translation team. Today, I use a simple Word document. I start one at the beginning of a project, a pristine version of the doc before revisions.  With every review, I revise the source document as I normally would, adding an annotation to the Word document that detailed what I changed, who requested the change, and when I changed it. Sure, it’s extra work. But the peace of mind it gives me when I can recognize a requested change’s second appearance is worth every minute.  When that happens, I have Requestor One and Requestor Two battle it out and get back to me when they’ve chosen a winner.

There was one procedure in a software release that went back and forth like this for months.

Despite the extra time it takes to maintain, my Word tracker has saved me countless hours in unnecessary research whenever discrepancies occur.

How do you manage multiple changes?

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