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  • Writer's pictureScriptorium Team

Seven Tips for Preventing Documentation Conflict

A team placing their hands in to celebrate collaboration.

You’ve seen it happen—comment wars in your working documents. Dave wants more details, but Fran wants less. How do you manage it when your collaborative writing project starts to go off the rails?


We, at Scriptorium, have faced our share of conflicts and have learned to address key areas before a project starts. Though conflict happens in even the best well-oiled machine, there are certain things a team can do to prevent conflict as the timeline looms. Here are our seven tips for preventing documentation conflict.


1. Designate a document lead.

The document lead makes the final decisions, including settling any conflicting opinions. They ensure the document’s quality and that team members remain true to their responsibilities (or “stay in their lane”). Ideally, your lead will be someone who understands the purpose and audience of your document so they can make the best decisions for the final draft.


Your lead will also be the final line of defence before sending or publishing the document; they perform a final quality check. Though all team members are responsible for writing a quality document, your lead will ensure that track changes and comments are removed and that the grammar and formatting are appropriate. The lead ensures the final document is named and filed according to document management conventions.


2. Define roles and responsibilities.

Each team member has specific strengths in writing or editing. Play to each team member’s strength when you have a deadline:


  • Have someone who is great at big-picture thinking and understands the overall document strategy? Get them to design the document structure and manage the first draft.

  • Have someone who is detail-focused and loves the hunt for grammar fixes? Make them your final proofreader who does the last pass before publishing or sending the document.

When team members have a clear understanding of their responsibilities for the creation of the document, oftentimes they will focus solely on their part, unless they’re asked for help from another team member. If an individual strays from their role, the document lead can intercept and keep everyone on track. Clear roles can reduce some of the stress of meeting a tight deadline.


3. Focus on audience and purpose.

Any writing teacher is going to underline the importance of a document’s audience and purpose. Sometimes, conflicts in document writing can arise because different writers have different visions for the audience or purpose.


Though writers may have a different vision and writing style, when they know the audience, know the purpose, and have a goal to reach (the deadline), often it is easier to streamline all styles into one when each team member remembers who they are writing for and why.


It sounds kind of nerdy, but try writing down the audience and purpose of a document and share it with the whole team.



An individual typing on a laptop keyboard with an open journal beside them.

4. Have a clear process. 


When you’re writing and reviewing with a team, it’s essential to be clear about what you need. For example,


  • Please write 200 words about the timeline of this project.

  • Please review pages 4-10 to ensure that they are technically correct.

Specific instructions mean each person knows what you need, and they don’t waste time overwriting or reviewing the wrong information. This will also reduce conflict because everyone is clear about their responsibilities.


The First Draft Process

When a team has a clear process ahead of them, nothing is left in question. A document lead can assign sections of a document to specific writers and can reach out to different departments or Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) for more background information. They then manage the first draft that collates all input from their various sources. The lead (or another assigned team member) can copy edit the document to ensure it has an overall flow and a tone that matches the document’s audience and purpose.


The Review Process

Sometimes, the document will need a review from only one SME, but other times, reviews are needed from a larger group. There are two common ways to review documents:


  • Synchronous reviews: when everyone reviews at the same time, and your document lead manages all the incoming changes in a master document.

  • Asynchronous reviews: your document lead asks for reviews one at a time.

There are advantages to both processes:


  • Synchronous reviews work best when you have a tight deadline and a good document lead who can manage the incoming comments.

  • Asynchronous reviews make it easier to manage incoming comments, but they can take a lot longer—especially if your reviewers are slow.


Set clear deadlines for comments and hold your reviewers to them. Though this is most important with a hard deadline, it’s good practice as your team could get stuck—for months—in the review process. Once all the reviews are done and the comments managed, your lead can assign someone to do the final sweeping proofread to catch any small grammar or formatting errors before the document is published.


5. Manage your document versions.

In recent years, cloud-based applications such as Google Drive, One Drive, and Dropbox have provided document management options that can avoid version history issues. These applications let you identify who is in the document and what changes have been made. When you are working on a tight deadline, this can save time and confusion about the latest versions. If a cloud-based application is not appropriate for your team, having the document lead ensure that the file name and version conventions are followed will help save your team a lot of headaches as more drafts are created. Regardless of the method, your document lead is responsible for the final document and implementing any needed changes.


6. Manage different software or hardware.

This can be tricky in a work environment when individuals are PC-based or MAC-based. Oftentimes, MAC-based software does not translate well to PC, particularly around format (fonts, graphics, etc.). You’ll find similar challenges if some work in Google Docs while others use Microsoft Word. Though this is not impossible to work around, be aware that it can cause formatting issues. If your team works on different platforms or software, ensure one person is dedicated to reviewing the document format, especially during the final draft.

 

7. Encourage Collaboration

It can feel messy or challenging to create a document with a group, but remember that you are not alone. Feeling stuck? Reach out to someone in the group to talk it through, get input, and get a fresh take.


There is no way to eliminate conflict completely. We, at Scriptorium, try to think of it as a good thing. People only get upset about document content because they care and are invested in the outcome. It is much better to work with a team of people who care than those who are indifferent. Embrace the challenges and set up good processes and communication. This will help you create a document you can all be proud of.


 

Need help with projects like this? Scriptorium writers can be your document lead. We have a lot of experience managing documents in all kinds of situations. We can provide an outside perspective to make sure that your message makes sense to people who don’t know your business as well as you do. Learn more about our services and how we can help your team.




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