February 8, 2024

How to Build an Effective Review Process

image shows a man giving a good document review process

Recently, a colleague shared quite a few comments on a piece I wrote. He was almost apologetic about it, concerned that I might take offence.

Do you ever find yourself responding with a rather clever line to a comment? It’s not common for me, but this time was different. This reply, I believe, will stay with me for a long time.

He explained, somewhat regretfully, that he had several comments on the 40 pages I had asked him to review. He seemed to think that I might be disheartened, interpreting the volume of comments as a reflection of poor quality in my work. However, the reality was quite the opposite.

In response, I said, ‘Only good work garners a lot of comments. Bad work? People simply stop reading it.’ After saying this, I realized I had stumbled upon an interesting perspective. It also seemed to reassure my colleague that his feedback wasn’t overly critical.

This incident led me to ponder the art of giving and receiving feedback. It sparked thoughts about the significance of attitude in successful collaboration and why this proves challenging in many settings. Drawing from my own experiences, I aim to offer some practical tips for effectively giving and receiving feedback.

The importance of attitude

I’ve noticed, and I’m sure many of you have too, that getting comments from colleagues like developers, support staff, or product managers can be tough. We all know, in theory, that comments improve our work. A good comment doesn’t just fix mistakes; it adds valuable info that’s really useful for the reader. So why’s it still a hard pill to swallow?

Here’s what I think: editing isn’t seen as a rewarding task. It’s often not viewed as creative or exciting. Since it’s not their own work, reviewers don’t expect any grand accolades or even a simple pat on the back for their effort. It’s just seen as a necessary, thankless task by many.

Going a bit deeper, those same reviewers who might not put much effort into reviewing often feel frustrated when others don’t review their work. You’d think the mutual need for feedback would be enough motivation, right? But unfortunately, it’s not.

Clearly, what’s needed is a shift in attitude, both personally and company-wide, to help colleagues. We all aim for the same goal: creating effective documents that benefit the business. I don’t believe this shift is hard to achieve once its importance is recognized. And I suspect many of you will agree that this change is overdue.

My suggestions for improving attitude are:

  1. Foster a Constructive Feedback Culture:
    Promote an environment where feedback is seen as a learning opportunity. This involves training on effective communication, acknowledging the value of feedback, and leading by example to set a positive tone.
  2. Recognition and Positive Reinforcement:
    Implement strategies to recognize and appreciate the efforts of those providing useful feedback. This could range from informal acknowledgments, like thank-you notes, to formal recognition in team settings, reinforcing the importance of contribution to the collaborative process.
  3. Create a Safe and Respectful Environment:
    Work towards establishing a safe space for open and honest communication. Encourage mutual respect, where all opinions are valued. This helps in building trust and makes team members more receptive to both giving and receiving feedback.
  4. Regular Practice and Clear Goals:
    Integrate feedback into regular work routines and clearly communicate its purpose and benefits. Celebrating improvements and successes resulting from feedback further reinforces its positive impact on the team and project outcomes.

Tips for Authors Assigning Review Tasks

Let’s delve into how we, as authors, can effectively prepare our work for review. We’ve all experienced the anticipation and, sometimes, the apprehension of sending our work out for feedback. It’s not just a matter of passing along our documents; it’s about setting the stage for constructive and useful critiques.

Before you press ‘send’, consider this: the way you present your work for review can greatly influence the quality of feedback you receive. So, here are a few key tips to help ensure that your request for feedback is met with responses that are both insightful and beneficial. The aim is to foster an environment where feedback becomes a valuable tool for enhancement.

Let’s explore how to achieve this.

Avoid Being Lazy: When preparing review materials, put in the effort to be thorough. Think about how you would communicate if you were speaking – we tend to be more detailed and less lazy. Remember, writing might feel like more work, but it’s crucial for clarity.

Clarity with Conciseness: Ensure your instructions are clear but concise. Avoid shorthand and give all the necessary information without overwhelming the reviewer. This helps them understand your expectations and focus their efforts.

Selective Content for Review: Be thoughtful about what you ask reviewers to focus on. For instance, if it’s a large document like a 100-page help portal, don’t make them review everything. Either highlight the changes or provide just the updated sections. This respects their time and increases the likelihood of a thorough review.

Personal Interaction: If possible, talk to your reviewers. It’s easier to get engaged and thorough feedback from someone you have a positive business relationship with, rather than just a name in an email.

Express Appreciation with Specificity: Always thank your reviewers. A personalized compliment, like “Thanks for the review, especially your insights on page 5 about the business perspective, which really enhanced the topic,” can be more impactful than a general thank you.

Tips for Reviewers

Now, let’s switch perspectives and focus on the role of the reviewer. As someone providing feedback, your approach and insights can significantly impact the refinement and effectiveness of the work presented to you.

Reviewing isn’t just about pointing out what needs to change; it’s about contributing to the evolution of a piece, adding value through your perspective. But how do you ensure your feedback is both constructive and well-received? It’s not only about what you say, but also how you say it.

Let’s walk through some essential tips to help you provide feedback that is not only helpful but also encourages a positive, collaborative dynamic. These tips are designed to enhance the way we engage with the work of our colleagues, fostering a productive and respectful review process.

Don’t Be Lazy in Feedback: Provide comprehensive and thoughtful feedback. If something is unclear, ask for clarification. Your detailed feedback reflects the effort you put into the review process.

Use Short, Clear Sentences: Express your feedback in short, understandable sentences. This clarity ensures that your comments are easily read and more likely to be acted upon.

Be Diplomatic and Respectful: Offer feedback in a considerate manner. Unless directness is part of your established rapport with the author, opt for a tactful approach. Focus on the work, not the person.

Build Relationships: Try to have a conversation with the author if possible. A strong, positive relationship can make the feedback process more effective and collaborative.

Compliment the Author: Along with constructive feedback, include compliments. Be specific about what you liked or what stood out. This helps balance the critical comments and keeps the author motivated.

Reframe Extensive Feedback as Positive: If you have many comments or suggestions, explain that this is a testament to the quality of the work. Let the author know that the number of comments indicates the work’s potential and your commitment to helping refine it further. This approach helps the author view extensive feedback as constructive and encouraging, rather than as a negative critique.

How Good a Reviewer Are You? Self-Assessment

In the world of content creation, reviewers play a crucial role. Whether you’re reviewing a colleague’s report, a team member’s project proposal, or a peer’s article, the quality of your feedback can significantly impact the development and final outcome of the work. But have you ever stopped to consider how effective you are as a reviewer? It’s not just about pointing out what needs to change; it’s about providing constructive, clear, and encouraging feedback that helps the author improve their work. To help you gauge your skills and perhaps uncover areas for improvement, I’ve put together a quick self-assessment.

Rate yourself on each aspect of reviewing on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being ‘Never’ and 5 being ‘Always’. Be honest with your answers – this is about personal growth, after all!

Self-Assessment Questions:

  1. Clarity of Feedback: Do you focus on making your feedback clear and understandable?
  2. Conciseness: Are your comments concise and to the point?
  3. Diplomacy: How well do you balance honesty with tactfulness in your feedback?
  4. Engagement: Do you engage in meaningful dialogue with the author beyond just written feedback?
  5. Compliments and Positivity: How frequently do you include positive remarks or compliments in your feedback?
  6. Specificity: Do you provide specific suggestions or point out exact issues rather than vague critiques?
  7. Timeliness: How promptly do you provide feedback after receiving a request or assignment?
  8. Respectfulness: Do you maintain a respectful tone, even when providing critical feedback?
  9. Constructiveness: Is your feedback aimed at improving the work rather than just pointing out flaws?

Scoring:

35-45: Excellent Reviewer – You’re a feedback superstar! Your insights are valuable and well-received.

25-34: Good Reviewer – You provide helpful feedback, but there’s room for growth.

15-24: Average Reviewer – You’re on the right track, but some aspects of your reviewing could use improvement.

9-14: Needs Improvement – Focus on developing specific areas of your feedback approach.

5-8: Poor Reviewer – Consider re-evaluating your approach to providing feedback.

Remember, the goal of this assessment is to reflect on your current skills and identify areas where you can grow. No one is perfect, and there’s always room for improvement. Happy reviewing!

If you want to delve deeper into collaborative work and feedback, read more about how collaboration works in Paligo in our Focus series with Roger Gelwicks or our article about working as a reviewer in technical writing.