Unhelpful Reviewers

cart before horse 500

Question: One of my reviewers wrote “WRONG” on the top of my 300-page document with no explanation, and the other one spent 4 months painstakingly copy-editing every line. WTF?

Answer:

It’s good to tell reviewers what sort of feedback you’re looking for, because some people are born copy editors and will spend hours or days fixating on typos or bits of toner that fell on the paper during printing.

What you need from reviewers depends on where you are in the project. For example, you can ask reviewers to focus on a simple sanity check, overall organization, presentation to the customer, legal language, install sequence, visual clarity, technical accuracy, correct parts shown, etc.

I also ask reviewers to be specific in their comments:

“Make sure to call out what exactly is wrong in the document and where – and also **what it should change TO**.”

Aside from the horrible dangling participle, that last bit is super important. I’ve had reviewers who really did write “WRONG” on the cover of a 300-page manual with no other feedback. I’ve also had reviewers say vague things like “we should reflect Standard X” and, of course Standard X is written in opaque language that has no discernible connection with any of the content.

If it’s their area of expertise, but they can’t commit to a specific change, reviewers should STFU or do their job and figure it out. Say that politely, of course. In some cases, they may truly not know, but still want to raise a flag – this may require research (aka “wild goose chases”) on your part. Could indicate a larger issue, which is not your fault, but may still be your problem.

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