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Medical Writing : A Better Approach to Group Editing


If your job involves writing, editing, reviewing, or approving documents, you’re probably very familiar with the painful process of group editing when a large committee attempts to edit a single communication simultaneously. Acting with the noblest of intentions, the participants in a group edit writers, editors, project managers, subject matter experts, and executives traditionally use the “Track Changes” tool in Microsoft Word, often producing a document so bloodied with cross-outs, critiques, and new copy that it’s not only unrecognizable from the original draft, but virtually unreadable.

Track Changes and similar group-editing programs have revolutionized the editing process, and we should be thankful for those advances. But these programs don’t begin to address the dark side of group edits: rounds and rounds of disagreement, competing levels of expertise and authority, and excessive nitpicking that leave project managers ready to approve anything so long as it successfully moves the document out of review.

Get Everyone on the Same Page

Confusion and inefficiencies are inevitable during the review process unless all editors understand the point of the communication. Talk to whoever conceived the idea and write down their point. Not just their topic, but their point what that person is arguing for, proposing, or contending. Once that point is clear, share it with all review participants so they know and support the editorial objective with their edits.

If the topic is detailed or specialized, check in early with a subject matter expert on the document’s overall point and approach before asking them to review a completed manuscript. This preemptive approach may save you a lot of trouble down the road if someone disagrees with the principles, not just the paragraphs.

Limit Participants

Simplifying an editorial review starts with limiting the number of people working directly on the document, because smaller groups act more efficiently than larger ones. Too many voices can also slow down or stall a project, even when they agree.

Try to pick review participants with efficiency in mind, and remember that effective review is about editing, not brainstorming which means focusing on corrections, not reactions. In a brainstorm, two heads are better than one. But in a document review process, the fewer heads, the better.

Try to Keep Reviewers in Their Lanes

Often, reviewers will see themselves as general copyeditors in addition to subject matter experts. Of course, take their suggestions related to subject matter accuracy, but recognize that the writer and the final approver make all final decisions pertaining to words, style, voice, and editorial structure.

To keep reviewers in their lanes as much as possible, try to show them only the sections related to their expert review, not the entire document. If, for some reason, they need to re-review material, keep showing them only the relevant sections containing that content.

Form Committees

A group review train stalls when “everybody is reviewing everything,” so keep trying to create smaller committees to either work on specific sections or to provide primary edits that will be reviewed later by others higher up in the food chain. Committees can be grouped by subject matter expertise or by hierarchy for example, the first group is directors, and the second group is vice presidents. It’s worth repeating: the smaller the review group is, the more efficiently it will operate.

Where I work, a senior executive invited to a group edit will often say to her team, “everyone, please work on this and share with me only the final draft.” This process approach is an effective way to avoid micro-management and excessive commentary, so feel free to suggest that process yourself if your committee includes both senior executives and mid-level managers.

Leverage Technology

Given that some very intuitive and easy-to-integrate Writing (either Structured or Automated) tools do exist out in the external market, with the precise purpose of assisting in improving writing and editing efficiency, it seems surprising that companies do not make more use of them – especially as the time and cost savings associated with digital solutions are shown to exceed 60 per cent when compared with processes that rely on manual writing alone.

Several research articles and surveys point that the non-core activities like QC, Publishing, Submission-readiness costs companies 25 to 50% of their authoring time of the total author time based on the type of documents. You can do the math based on how many documents you are authoring/modifying per month to see the budget spent (and unfortunately in most companies this is not tracked well to see the gravity of this challenge). You can stop or minimize this $$ drain and free up time for your resources.

Technology and tools available that can help Writing teams minimize this non-core time and automate publishing, validation and QC. In addition to all these, add tracking and other workflow based options on top of these to keep writing teams more organized and focused.

Simplifying a complicated process along with a Tool/Software elevates not only the quality of the work but also team morale and enthusiasm. Conversely, the more red, the more dread, so keep talking with your colleagues and supervisors about ways to make your review processes more efficient and productive.

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