Right now I’m in the middle of a high priority, short deadline (aren’t they all) documentation process. Adding to the stress of a fast-approaching deadline is a review group that doesn’t have a clue how to perform a group review. Their workflow requires the editor to forward the document file via email to each member of the review group who then responds to the editor with their editorial comments in whatever manner they prefer. Often, this is in the form of a phone call telling the editor to do this to that section. It is up to the editor to make all those edits and then email the updated draft to the group again. Yes, we have word-processing software with editorial review tools and we even have collaboration sites where each reviewer can add changes and comments to a single document file with changes visible to all in real time. Our problem is purely organizational. It’s easier to spend hours doing it the hard way than spend minutes to train everyone how to do it easily, quickly and correctly.
Just what does it take to do a digital document review? Just about every serious word-processing application has reviewing tools included and they are surprisingly easy to use. Let’s take a look.
NOTE: I’m using Office 2008 for Mac and while the basic steps will be the same, this is one of the pre-ribbon versions of Word so your actual commands may be a bit different.
Before you begin, make sure your Word app knows who you are. In the Mac version this is done by using the Word > Preferences > User Information command to display the User Information panel. This is how Word knows who is editing the document and is used to identify each reviewer who makes changes and/or adds comments. Note that even if you aren’t using Word for document reviews, you should update this component for your version of Word. This information is embedded as metadata and adds provenance to any document you create.
During your own editing efforts, you’ll notice a number of proper names have been highlighted by Word’s spell checker. If these are proper names you will be using often in writing projects, I recommend adding them to your dictionary. Right-click on the word and choose the Add command from the popup menu. Now, the only time this word will show up in your own spell-check is when you misspell it. I don’t think your spelling dictionary travels with the document, so your reviewers may question some of your proper names.
Once the document has been opened, choose the Tools > Track Changes > Highlight Changes command. The Highlight Changes pane will appear. Turn on the Track changes while editing option. With the Highlight changes on screen option checked, you will also see those changes on his screen (recommended). Notice there is an Options button available. This lets you define colors and formatting options used to identify changes made to the document. For example, the default for inserted text is underlined and color-coded with the author’s color and deleted text appears as a strikethrough text, again in the author’s color. By using the By author option for colors, Word will use red for the first editor who makes changes, blue for the second editor and so on for up to eight editors. I recommend leaving each of these at their default option.
Save your document and forward it to your reviewer(s) via email or post it on a collaboration location where each can access it. Each editor will open the document in their Word app, turn on change tracking (Tools > Track Changes > Highlight Changes) and start editing. If they have Highlight changes on screen turned on, they will see the color-coded change formats, but even if they don’t their changes are being captured and will be visible to you once the document is returned to you.
Here’s what an edited document looks like when it comes back to you.
Note the vertical bars located in the left margin. They show where edits have been made in the document. The changes are in red because these were made by the first editor (using the By author color-coding option). The red box in the right margin shows what was deleted and who the editor is. You can right-click on the changed text and choose to Accept or Reject the change. Another – quicker – option uses the Tools > Track Changes > Accept or Reject Changes command. The changes pane you see here will appear and you can click on the Find buttons (next or previous) to quickly jump to the edits within your document. Once found, this pane lights up the Accept and Reject button to allow you to make your choice.
Ideally, your document is being reviewed at some sort of collaborative platform. In that case, as reviewers come to take a look at the document, they will see any changes made earlier by other reviewers. This will be true of changes made using a round-robin process (first reviewer finishes review and forwards reviewed copy to next reviewer who does the same) as well.
Now, let’s consider my nightmare situation where multiple reviewers are editing multiple copies of my document at the same time . . . As long as Track Changes was turned on, it’s not a problem. Open the original document, then choose the Tools > Merge Documents command. You’ll be asked to choose the file you want to merge. Select one by double-clicking on it and Word will merge its tracked changes into your original document. Repeat these steps for each edited document you receive and once you’ve finished, your original will have all the tracked changes waiting for you to review and action.
Word has one other very useful editorial tool – the comment. Sometimes a reviewer will question a fact or something that can’t be fixed by editing. This is where the comment comes in handy. To add a comment, position the cursor where you want the comment to appear. You can even highlight some text if appropriate. Then choose the Insert > Comment command and enter your comment in the box. When the author opens your reviewed copy of the document, your comment will be visible in the margin.
For those who don’t use Word, check the word processing app you do use and you will be pleasantly surprised to find its editorial tools function in much the same way. Even if it does take a few minutes to track down the appropriate commands, you’ll get that time returned ten-fold in the first review. Now, to convince that bunch at work . . .