Within an organization, some people have jobs that no one else can do (thank you, Silicon Valley, for bringing us the character of Gilfoyle, the Satan-worshipping tech genius). Others have jobs that no one else wants to do (bless you, Human Resources, for sifting through the intricacies of which benefits plans are the least heinous for employees). And then there are the jobs that everyone thinks they can do. This is the category that writers fall into: they unfortunately do something that most people can kinda sorta do.
Enter the review process, a grueling necessity in a working writer’s life. Every writer will acknowledge the need for it; facts and typos must be checked before anything is published. But let’s face it, most reviewers don’t catch facts and typos; they rewrite – not because the copy needs to be rewritten but because each reviewer likes the sound of his or her own voice just a little better. Add to this that writing is not like math: there is no one answer; something can be written an infinite number of ways, and thus can be infinitely changed.
If your organization has a good writer, she has studied writing. She knows sentence and paragraph structure, grammar, vocabulary, and how to build a persuasive argument using these components for the topic at hand. But with multiple reviewers, the risk is that the strategy she has built into her piece is degraded, one reviewer at a time. Sentences are moved around, key words are changed, emphasis is altered and pretty soon, she will not recognize her original work.
As a communications leader, the ramifications of this are threefold, and equally damaging. First, having too many reviewers muddies the copy, which will no longer have the same impact on your reader as the writer's crafted message. Second, the organization is wasting its resources by having too many people reviewing documents when they could be doing their own jobs. And finally, multiple reviews undermine the credibility of the writer, and in doing so, exhaust her.
So how can your communications team build a reasonable review process that avoids all of the above?
As a communications leader, take on the role to review copy for brand alignment and overall purpose of the piece. There is a reason for the effort, and you should be able to provide high level direction on how to reach the goal for the piece. This decreases the number of leaders who need to see the copy.
Identify key reviewers by skill set. Who can catch typos? Who knows the subject matter best for fact checking? This brings purpose to each review and eliminates reviewers who offer little to the equation.
Create a review process by deliverable type. A good rule of thumb is that the longer the shelf life of the deliverable, the more scrutiny it should receive. Intrinsically, deliverables that are around a long time are more important to the organization and more expensive to produce (annual reports, videos, reusable trade show graphics). Limit the number of reviewers on online copy, which is easily changed, and emails, which are quickly discarded by recipients.
Train your reviewers. After you’ve identified your reviewers for each deliverable type, explain their roles (“you are the grammar czar,” “you are the fact checker for revenue numbers,” etc.), go over the process and tell them what’s expected (and not!).
Create a method for the writer to communicate the reason for and goal of the piece. Whether you use an online or manual review process, ensure there’s a place for the writer to explain why she’s written the copy. This helps reviewers understand the strategy behind it and deters them from making inappropriate changes.
Support the writer. If she feels as though she's still receiving unnecessary changes, step in and advocate for her version with the reviewer.
As a team leader, you should be able to cut back on the time and people involved in the review process, and save the sanity of your beleaguered writer.