How to avoid endless drafts

More time doesn’t make it better 
One of the greatest things about writing is that you can revise your work. This is also one of the worse things about writing. The longer the document, the more exhausting it can be.

If you don’t follow a deliberate process, you can find yourself buried in endless drafts, ready to raise a white flag. Rather than the two drafts expected, you may find yourself on draft five. Not only does this take more time than necessary, it leads to inaccuracy.

A person would naturally think that more attempts would achieve better results. When it comes to business writing, this is not true. The simple fact is that people have limited resources. This is especially true when it comes to attention. Each time a person reads a text, they pay less attention.

How many drafts do you need?
Usually, three drafts are enough. Each draft has a specific focus:

  • Draft 1 is to ensure that the content is accurate and complete.
  • Draft 2 is to review style and other matters related to wording.
  • Draft 3 is to do a final proofread.

Draft 1
Making sure the content is accurate and complete is a big step. It may involve a team of subject matter experts and stakeholders.

The greatest challenge when reviewing the first draft is to keep the focus on accuracy. People naturally gravitate to matters of word choice. While feedback of that type is important, it can distract reviewers from the job at hand. Gently remind the team of how essential it is to ensure that the right information has been included.

If you get feedback that does not focus on the content, you may want to send it back and ask for more. As an alternative, you could ask a new person to review the draft. While this may feel uncomfortable, it could save a lot of project time later.

Some organizations prefer to bring the reviewers into a room and go through everyone’s feedback as a group. This is laborious and taxing and rarely works. Invariably, the group pays more attention to the first pages and wearies by the end. It’s better to save meetings for focused discussion on areas of concern.

As the writer, it’s your job to make the best use of the reviewers’ time. Collate the suggested revisions and call a meeting for group discussion. Give the reviewers a list of revisions before the meeting. Highlight items of disagreement, including changes that were requested by only one person.

Make sure that you give plenty of time for discussion and continue until people are genuinely satisfied. Writing a document often brings forward unresolved issues within the organization. The review of the first draft is an opportunity to work though those concerns.

Draft 2 
If you equip the reviewers with a style guide and notes, review of the second draft is straightforward. A style guide sets standards on areas of writing that are open to disagreement. It also guides writers on appropriate style and tone. An organization may use a published style guide, such as “The Canada Press Style Guide”, or they may create one of their own.

An alphabetical list of specific word choices is also handy. Include words that are capitalized and hyphenated, as well as preferred words. This helps you be consistent and makes it easy for reviewers to see the logic behind your choices. If changes need to be made, they can be handled quickly.

Draft 3 
By the time the reviewers see the third draft, they should not have very many changes. The main purpose of this draft is to get someone who was not involved earlier to proofread the content.

If you don’t already follow this system, give it a try. Let me know how it goes.

© Debbie Bateman 2018. Image purchased from Adobe Stock.

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