Picture this: You have a high-profile writing project for your organization. Maybe you’ve used our communication planning resource to create a social media calendar for your brand. You’ve developed the content for each channel, and now it’s time to commence content editing. Having multiple stakeholders who need to review and approve content can sometimes feel like too many cooks in the kitchen.
Many cooks in the kitchen means different approaches to preparing foods, different opinions on how food should be seasoned, and disagreement on when something is done. When everyone is able to work together, this can make for a better finished product, but if not, it leads to delays, chaos, and bad food. How do you keep your content editing process from becoming a mess like this?
First, realize that while the content editorial process sometimes has a reputation for being painful, it actually is worthwhile to make sure expectations are met for your stakeholders and to reduce the potential for publishing mistakes or misinformation. It can be tricky to make sure your work doesn’t stall out when you have multiple stakeholders, differing opinions, or someone who doesn’t have a lot of time for reviewing content. Here are a few tricks to keep things moving.
Set Deadlines and Content Editing Expectations Up Front
Practically, it’s a good idea to sketch out a rough production plan for content-heavy projects. This allows you to keep the project on track from concept to deliverable. Deadlines can help you manage your own time, and also allow other stakeholders to prioritize their review within their long lists of responsibilities. It may go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway—build in some extra time for yourself. You never know what travel, meeting, urgent project, or unexpected time away from the office might come up
for you or your stakeholders, so it’s always best to pad the time allotted for the content editorial process.
Before shooting off an email asking for a review, take a few minutes to make sure you have the right voices represented in the content editing process. Then, consider exactly what you need from each stakeholder. If you’re thinking about it like cooks in a kitchen, this is where you have to define who is the sous chef and who are the line cooks.
For example, with social media content, you might need a department head or organization leadership to approve the general direction, but you might also have subject matter experts for specific posts, and maybe there’s an especially detail-oriented person on your team who has an eagle eye for typos. Include all of them, but make sure they know what their role is. You might not need the lead pastor to be looking for misplaced commas, but make sure he knows that.
Joel Schwartzberg recommends identifying four individuals or groups to assist in this: project manager, writer, reviewer/subject matter expert, and approver.
Be Generous with Reminders
When you’ve set expectations and deadlines at the beginning of the content editorial process, it’s much easier to send a reminder later. You will need to feel this out based on workflow at your organization, but you may want to consider a reminder a day or two before the deadline to make sure reviewers and approvers have enough time to complete the assignment without derailing the timeline. There’s nothing worse than being out of the office sick, and your project coming to a complete standstill while deadlines whiz by. Keep the train on the track and running on time by sending a reminder before the deadline.
At times, if you have communicated deadlines and still have not heard back, you may need to move on without a stakeholder’s feedback. In this case, simply communicate to the stakeholder that you have the information you need and are moving on. This might sound like, “If I don’t receive additional edits by this date, I will move forward with the draft.” Or, “Based on the feedback received, I made these edits and will move the content to the next stage of review.” This is a polite and clear, yet firm restatement of the expectations you set at the beginning of the content editing process. It lets your stakeholders know that you have a schedule to keep, but also makes them aware of the status at each stop along the way.
Filter Content Editing Feedback with Good Questions
What happens when the feedback returned on your work is surprising? You’ve likely been on the receiving end of feedback that was confusing, misinformed, or simply frustrating. Or perhaps you thought you understood the assignment, but the feedback you receive is wildly different from what you expected. Here’s our best advice: take a deep breath and ask a question.
Your goal here is to get to the heart of the issue—to illuminate the values of the person offering the feedback and clarify confusing comments. That will help you determine next steps. (Learn more about this in our post How to Make Feedback (Actually) Helpful.)
Competing Feedback in Content Editing
Sometimes different stakeholders have such different perspectives, they offer competing feedback. How do you keep a project moving forward in that scenario?
It’s ok to ask stakeholders to talk offline and come back to you when they have a final answer. This is a great time to remind everyone of the goal of the content, which you hopefully communicated at the beginning of the process.
You may also need to prioritize based not only on the stakeholder’s position, but also the type of feedback they are offering. For instance, if you have competing feedback from the administrative assistant and the lead pastor, who do you go with? It might seem straightforward until you realize that the administrative assistant has the correct details about the church picnic. However, if the lead pastor’s feedback has to do with the overall theme or tone of a post, those comments carry more weight.
If you have multiple teams involved in the content editorial process, you may want to ask a point person to compile feedback for their team. This will make the feedback easier to filter through, but also allow the team to talk amongst themselves and resolve any pending questions or differing opinions before they share the feedback.
As you guide your team through the content editorial process, remember—your job is to facilitate the conversation and keep everyone moving in the same direction. When that’s your focus, it becomes easier to coach all the cooks in your kitchen toward a delicious result.
Want to learn more about effective editing? Check out Four Editorial Tips to Elevate Your Writing. And if you have other questions, we’re here to help! You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.