Ground Rules for Document Review & Collaboration

By Warren Lutz – Contributing Writer

Collaboration is critical in the marketing business, but it isn’t easy. This is especially true when multiple people are editing the same document, but going about it in completely different ways.

For use in creating marketing copy, there are several new document collaboration technologies out there, including Google Docs. But since most collaboration still takes place by using Microsoft Word and email, here are a few proposed ground rules for keeping the process organized when working with multiple reviewers.

Choose a quarterback.

Because more than one person may be editing the same document at a time, it makes sense to have one person in charge of putting together everyone’s edits and sending out future drafts for review.

This person is often the marcom or project manager and is responsible for ensuring things stay on track and preventing different versions of the same document from flying back and forth. The quarterback is typically the person who acts as gatekeeper to the production team, agency, or vendor and is the point person for releasing content to layout and routing for review and approval.

Use consistent file names.

Utilize and stick to a simple filename structure. A common sense one might be “[Project Title]_v1.doc”, followed by v2, v3, etc until you reach _fnl. When someone is providing input on the document, they can simply put their initials at the end like this, “Cool_Case_Study_v1_wl.doc”

Try to discourage others from renaming the file, as it can throw off the rest of the team.

Use track changes!

Believe it or not, there are still some folks who do not know how to use the track changes tool in Microsoft Word. If you’ve ever received a scan of handwritten notes on a print-out or had to discuss a list of edits by phone, you know how frustrating this can be.

The following is a two-sentence instruction on how to track changes that you can use to help the holdouts get with the program:

“When you open the document, click on ‘Review’ on the top tab, then click Track Changes. Do your edits, then save.” (Google also has a track changes feature that is great for document collaboration, but you have to have a Google account to use it.)

If all else fails, at least try to get them to edit in the document in Word, even if they can’t track their edits. It’s extra work, but you can still see what changes were made by using the “Compare” tool.

Communicate the ground rules.

When communicating your ground rules – whether you use the ones above or your own– include them when sending out the first draft of a document or when pointing reviewers to access the doc online. Keep it simple, such as:

So that we all stay on track and save time, when editing this document, please:

  • Use the Track Changes tool
  • Use the same filename structure and add your initials to the end
  • Send the revised document to [the quarterback]

Of course, you can set up ground rules and some people will still never follow them. But when you establish simple expectations like this, the odds are in your favor that you will help prevent a waste of time and money.



How to Track Changes in a Word 2007 Document for Dummies

Google Docs Emulates Microsoft Word’s ‘Track Changes’ Feature


Further reading:

Free Project Management Tools for the Virtual Office

Word Up! Quick Tips on Microsoft Word

7 thoughts on “Ground Rules for Document Review & Collaboration

  1. Janice Avellar says:

    It’s very important for the “Quarterback” to go through all the comments before forwarding drafts on. I’ve seen numerous open ended comments like “should we say this?” or “do we want to mention (XXX) here?” It’s critical that the Quarterback make sure these types of comments get answered or deleted to avoid confusion.

    • This is so TRUE! Often times the content owners are on such tight deadlines, they’ll toss the ball and expect the Quarterback to make the final 10 yards.

  2. The fastest way to derail a document schedule is to not pay attention to the review process. With focused feedback, consistent change tracking and a central clearing point for comments and comment adjudication–the Quarterback–you can get great quality documents in the right timeframe.

  3. “Too many cook spoil the broth” is what my grandma used to say. With mulitple reviewers it is so important for all of the comments be catpured and addressed. This blog on being the quarterback, gives great guidance on how to keep control of the ball/doc!

  4. I think the communication of these simple rules is key. While these rules seem very basic, I’ve seen them broken at least once a month. Then valuable time and budget is wasted, usually in the form of extra review cycles.

  5. I really appreciate these tips! I opften forget about using the ‘track changes’ feature in Word, so thanks for the reminder! I also appreciated the naming convention offered as a suggestion too. It makes things less complicated.

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