The Hidden Costs of Revisions

Have you ever gone through a revision cycle for a piece of content and thought, “Hey, that was easy—let’s do that again!” I’m guessing the answer is no. As an author, you’re annoyed your copy doesn’t have the certain zing you hoped for. Stakeholders are miffed because schedules are behind, and typically, the entire team is glad the whole ordeal is over. And then we repeat the process multiple times.

One of the main reasons revision cycles are painful is the lack of context we give content reviewers. We assume a content reviewer will parse feedback among technical accuracy, tonality, copy edits, content design, and SEO. Once we receive feedback, it takes time to sift through the myriad changes. While some reviewers are laser-focused on copy edits, others may simply tell you they didn’t like a sentence or the subject is too dense.

Often, editors and authors are pressed to prioritize feedback. If marketing prefers the term “customers” to “users,” how is that feedback weighed against engineering’s insistence on the word “users”? The role of the author in a revision cycle is not of a writer, but that of a referee.  

Rethinking Revisions

While there is no shortage of tools to help facilitate feedback, even the best editorial process is doomed without careful adherence to healthy communication. Lately, I have been spending more time coaching content reviewers on how to provide feedback than the time taken to produce content in the first place. This imbalance may seem weird at first, but it’s imperative to the overall success of any feedback loop.

When presenting content to a group of reviewers, I offer ground rules for how feedback is provided. Projects, tools, and clients all differ, but here are some basic guidelines that you can start with and modify to fit your work.

Content Feedback Ground Rules 

  • Feedback is restricted to one tool or medium (e.g., comments in Google Docs, Excel,, Word). Feedback cannot be given via email, Slack, PDF, or fax.
  • Only one subject matter expert per piece of content. For example, you will only have one person reviewing copy edits. It’s astronomically more difficult to build toward consensus with multiple reviewers.
  • All iterations are recorded, archived, and easily accessible. When changes are made on-the-fly, it’s easy to forget how content came to its current state. Whatever revision tool you use, be sure a complete audit trail of all iterations is available to the team.
  • Annotate all revisions. Defend any changes made to content. For example, “I changed all references from ‘the room’ to ‘your room’ so audiences feel more connected to the software and their designs.” This eliminates content reviewers asking why content was constructed in a certain manner.
  • Identify the content owner. Every piece of content has a name associated with it. I can’t tell you how important this is for saving time as content matures within your organization.
  • Cap all the revision cycles. Content is constantly changing. However, to avoid endless feedback loops, set the number of revision cycles based on defined project milestones. This keeps folks accountable and deadlines intact.

Defending Our Decisions

Arguably, creating content is the easiest part of any writing process. However, providing a clear rationalization for our decision is the golden ticket to shortening review cycles and facilitating the unified consensus that you need to keep your writing projects on time and in budget.    

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