In defense of kindness in the editorial review cycle

Photo by Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash

I took an interest in editorial reviews early in my career. That interest drove me to become a technical reviewer in the computer book industry for several years. I’m not sure they even have that role anymore. At the least publishers may not pay for that review anymore. Sitting through curt and incomplete document reviews made me take those extra steps because there had to be a better way. 

Fast forward to today, I’m a stickler for kindness in the editorial review cycle:

Be courteous, show kindness. Typos can happen to everyone

In my first job out of college, I was working on a government contract with a client who deemed themselves a tough reviewer. She’d lecture us contractors over the smallest of infractions. I remember there was one document that we back and forth on with her an inordinate amount of time. One typo slipped through, pubic education instead of public education.

That one typo has stuck with me since then because the client in question was condescending to people. 

Well into my writing career, I had a colleague who gave a most condescending and snotty review of a draft. Then they grabbed the ball from the team to make significant changes to the content. They delivered a new version that was a step back and cutting critical facts. Our team sidelined them and finished the content ourselves. They left the team a week or so after that incident.

Mistakes can happen to anybody, as these two examples show. The pretentiousness of both reviewers magnified their own errors to their respective teams. It was also harder for some people to accept their ideas when they were correct≥

Being courteous and kind in your editorial review comments serves multiple purposes. it makes you appear as a contributor to an effort. People will want to work with you. Constructive and detailed comments can also stand on their own and show your knowledge, experience, and insights to the rest of your team.

Questions can be more powerful than changes

Over my years as a reviewer and writer, I see that the most powerful reviews aren’t those specifying changes rather it’s the ones that ask the writer questions to dive a little deeper into the topic or to clarify points in the text.

I’ve seen reviewers get into trouble in a few ways. Review by committee can be full of pitfalls when it leads to a cascade of contradictions. There’s also the reviewer that wants to get a participation trophy by making changes–any changes–to show they had something to do with getting the document out. Another challenge is that some technologies — in particular, the cloud — is lapping or even bypassing some people in the tech industry. If you have reviewers who aren’t keeping up with technology, look for ways to coach them to ask questions not to throw down arbitrary changes to show their participation.

In fact, one of the best reviewers I’ve ever had during my writing career wasn’t technical. She could ask solid and tactful questions about what she read. Above all, she was a clear communicator and was honest about what she knew what she didn’t know.

People don’t like to write

I work with a group of super-smart solution architects daily. The thing is they aren’t writers by trade (though some are prolific proposal writers in their own rights). It’s counterproductive to me to be anything less than courteous and nice. Even before my current position, I’ve had to work with non-writers and I’ve had luck coaching them to just break technical concepts down into a more understandable format.

Final thought

Content reviews need not be a painful experience for all parties involved. You do have to create a review culture of constructive comments and communications that bring the strengths out of your reviewers, writers, and non-writers alike

What’s the tone in your editorial review cycle?