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10 Tips for Avoiding Reviewer Fatigue

I’ve recently been reviewing a work product that is, frankly, a mess.  Unfortunately, I feel like I’m not providing valuable feedback.  I’ve spent my energy and time straightening out the  confusing weeds, and now have nothing left to look for the real issues and misses.  At Seilevel we have a guideline—users can review something at most 3 times before they will become ineffective.  Many people will lose effectiveness after 2 reviews, and some after just 1.  Reviewer fatigue occurs when the user is so tired of looking at the same thing they are no longer able to provide useful feedback.  In the end, our goal is to produce quality work products as efficiently as possible, which means we need useful feedback from each review.

Here are 10 tips for avoiding reviewer fatigue:

1.       If you don’t understand a core concept, ask direct questions before sending a work product for review.  This was a major contributor to the mess I was reviewing.  The author did not understand some core concepts.  Rather than ask direct questions, they just guessed and left it to me to figure out the source of their confusion.  Asking direct questions would have been much more efficient.

2.       Have a working session to address open-ended questions.  If you have a lot of open-ended questions in a document, have a working session to address them.  It’s usually much more efficient to address open-ended questions verbally than in writing.  There is often a lot of back and forth to get the final answer.   There’s an exception to this when working with an English as Second Language reviewer who is very comfortable with written English, but not spoken.

3.       If you have a single section of the work product you need feedback on, ask for review of just that section.  This is different from tip #1 and #2, as it applies to things you understand, but fear you might not be communicating clearly.  By doing this, you receive needed feedback, but limit the reviewer’s effort. Additionally, you can request this feedback while you are polishing the rest of the work product.

4.       Know your reviewers.  Is Dick great at proofing, but light on content accuracy?  Does Mary notice every little detail?  Is John great at the big picture, but  totally unconcerned about details?  Do others on the team consider Jane’s approval most important?  Understanding the quality and quantity of feedback you will receive can help you plan your requests for review and feedback. 

5.       Clearly communicate the purpose of the review.  Sometimes a work product is being reviewed to see if it is directionally correct.  In this case, you do not want your reviewer focusing on every little detail.  Let them know the level of attention the review needs.

6.       Limit the number of reviewers for each review.  If you have multiple reviewers and sufficient time, you can request sequential reviews. Incorporate feedback before you move on to the next reviewer.  This is most useful if you have an early draft that needs review.  Starting with the big picture reviewer to make sure you’re on track, and then moving on to the details people can work really well.

7.       Use change tracking.  If you’re resubmitting a work product to the same person for a second or third review, use change tracking to show the differences. This tip applies even if you don’t have automated support for change tracking.   Yes, I’ve used coloring and strikethrough in an Excel document to show changes.  I’ve also used color in a Visio diagram to show changed steps.   One warning–if the work product underwent a rewrite, change tracking can be distracting, rather than helpful.

8.       Review your own work.  This one sounds silly, but some people just don’t do it.  If I have a large work product, it is best if I can review it a day or more after I’ve written it.   I’m much more likely to find errors if I’m reading with fresh eyes.  One woman I work with reads aloud to find errors.  Another reviewer prints things; they are more likely to find errors in print than on screen.  You need to find what works for you. 

9.       Double-check your edits before submitting a work product for re-review.  This is really a special case of the previous tip, but if you’ve ever given feedback and found half of your corrections ignored, you know why I’m pointing this out.  Please note—sometimes addressing feedback means explaining why you did not make a requested change.

10.   Follow the guidelines for creating a consumable work product in the first place.  If your work product is hard to consume the first time, subsequent reviews will be that much more painful. 

In summary, it’s all about respecting your reviewers and their time.   Unfortunately, people sometimes get in the mode of “it’s their job to review and sign-off, so they have to”.  Yes, it is their job.  But, it’s our job to make their job as easy as possible by giving them a work product they can easily review.  Respect them and their time.  Give them something truly ready for review or re-review.


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