Back in October we shared that Karl Wiegers—author of Software Requirements, Second Edition (Microsoft Press, 2003), Practical Project Initiation: A Handbook with Tools (Microsoft Press, 2007), and More About Software Requirements: Thorny Issues and Practical Advice (Microsoft Press, 2009)—had started blogging. Karl’s most recent post, “Four Eyes Are Better Than Two: Reviewing What You Write,” is especially important for authors. Here’s an excerpt:
Tough peer reviews are the most useful kind. They aren’t much fun to read, but they sure help improve whatever you write. I’ve been fortunate in this regard. For each of my books, I have had one or two—never more than two—reviewers who just didn’t let me get away with anything. Once I figure out who those reviewers will be on a particular writing project, I always dread receiving their feedback. I know that I’ll feel like an idiot, and that I’ll have to spend a lot of time processing their comments and reworking the piece. However, I also know that their input will greatly improve my work. Other reviewers just rubberstamp what I send them or point out minor typos. While I appreciate their time and the positive feedback, this kind of input just isn’t very helpful.
I’ve observed that reviewing tends to make a document longer, whereas editing makes it shorter. Reviewers often suggest that I add more content, another example, or a figure to illustrate a point. By the time I’ve addressed all the reviewer input, the piece is perhaps ten to twenty percent longer than the original version. So then it’s time to go back to my remove-100-words philosophy to tighten it up again, particularly if I’m writing against a length limit. Professional copy editing also will fix wordiness and redundancy problems.
Peer review is definitely a best practice for writers, and we encourage it here at Microsoft Press. This is in addition to the technical review, copy editing, and proofreading we provide. Peer reviewers should review for appropriate breadth and depth of coverage, thoroughness, effective organization, and clarity. It’s a very rare first or even second draft that can’t be improved by peer review, even in the case of very experienced authors. Thanks for the reminder, Karl.