Reviewing the first draft

The business writer’s job 
When it comes to business, even the best writing is of little value if it does not capture a full spectrum of ideas and experience. Business writing draws on the insights of an entire organization.

That is why a business writer needs to do more than build sentences. A business writer needs to build strong document teams and encourage a spirit of collaboration. This is especially important when developing procedures, courses and manuals that many people depend on.

You may think it is enough to circulate the first draft to a few knowledgeable people and ask them for feedback. While that is definitely a good start, I think there is much more to the task. People need clear instructions on what is expected. They need guidance on where to focus their effort. Sometimes, they may even need a clear-headed voice and a gentle hand to help them reach a compromise.

Over the years, I’ve learned a few strategies that help make the most out of the expertise within an organization when reviewing the first draft of an important document:

1. Start with technical accuracy 
The temptation when reading any text is to focus on wording. While that is an important consideration, it is not the right place to start. There is little point in wording information well if it is not the right information. The first step is to make sure the content is both accurate and complete. Ask subject matter experts to check that nothing important is missing. Remind them of the people who will be relying on the accuracy of the information and the consequences of getting it wrong.

2. Highlight key questions 
With any writing project, there are areas of known contention or weakness. Before leaving the first draft with subject matter experts for review, remind them of those areas by giving them specifically focused questions. The sooner potential disagreements are addressed, the better for everyone.

3. Use feedback to dig deeper 
Whenever you receive feedback, dig a little deeper. Ask probing questions about the reasons for suggested changes. Often a suggestion in one section points to a larger concern that may affect the whole document. As the business writer, it’s your job to be thorough and draw out more information whenever possible.

4. If you don’t get strong feedback, ask for more 
I have learned to be suspicious when a draft comes back with few or no changes. Don’t be fooled. Every first draft includes at least a few missed opportunities or unintentional inaccuracies. If you get feedback that does not seem strong, look for someone else who might have something to contribute. Either that, or gently ask the person to take a second look, emphasizing how important it is to make sure the content is accurate and complete.

5. Collate the feedback and share it 
Often after review of the first draft, the team will get together for a debriefing. Make sure that you make the most of everyone’s time by summarizing the issues. Point out areas of agreement as well as disagreement. Emphasize trends in the feedback. Encourage the exchange of ideas.

6. Negotiate compromise 
The first draft is the best time to identify areas of disagreement and resolve them. As the business writer, your job is to facilitate communication. That means listening to understand and then restating the issue clearly. It also means drawing out all points of view, highlighting areas of agreement and brainstorming solutions. I’ll go into more details about mediating areas of disagreement in my next blog.

The review of the first draft is when the most important changes are identified. If you follow the process well, you will be concentrating on getting the information right. What is more, you will avoid endless drafts. I hope these strategies help you. Capturing the collective intelligence of an organization is an important and challenging task, but worth the effort.

©Debbie Bateman 2019. Image purchased from Adobe Stock.

Leave a Reply