Caution, Empowered Reviewers Ahead: The Challenges of the Review Process in Collaboration

Caution, Empowered Reviewers Ahead: The Challenges of the Review Process in Collaboration

Robbin Zeff Warner (Independent Scholar, Belgium), Beth L. Hewett (University of Maryland University College, USA) and Charlotte Robidoux (Hewlett-Packard Company, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-994-6.ch016


One aspect of writing in government, business, and academia that always has been collaborative is the document review process. In this process, all persons with a stake in the final writing product are invited to help shape the piece in terms of content, style, or structure. Their review work has primarily been both serial and parallel. However, problems and perils of document review can strike at any stage in the review process: from the reviewer not knowing how to give useful comments to the writer not knowing how to interpret and use comments constructively. In today’s Web 2.0 world, what once was a more closed and controlled collaboration review process becomes open and organic because digital and online information is accessible to intended and unintended audiences alike for commenting, ranking, and reviewing. Response to this new openness in review has been mixed among and within institutions. And yet, the momentum for open and even unsolicited reviews is not only impossible to stop but also difficult to manage. While computer-mediated communication (CMC) and content management system (CMS) tools have automated the writing process, the review process has lagged in terms of being efficiently collaborative. This chapter explores collaborative review in a user-empowered Web 2.0 world, including how CMC tools can facilitate the review process. Finally, this chapter exemplifies Principles 1, 2, and 4 that ground this book.
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In a wired world of nearly instantaneous access and communication, consumers no longer suffer in silence; they post their frustrations online for everyone from the company to current and potential customers to read. On May 18, 2009, for example, a customer of American Airlines was frustrated with his poor online experience at and decided to redesign the website to be more user-friendly and efficient. This dissatisfied customer, Dustin Curtis, was a user interface designer by trade and kept a weblog, or blog. He posted his revised design and commentary about his frustration with the website on his blog as an open letter to American Airlines with a link to his redesign. Figure 1 features his blog with portions of the redesign (Curtis, May 18, 2009).

Figure 1.

Screenshot of Dustin Curtis’ s May 18, 2009 blog post with the open letter to American Airlines showing his redesign next to the current web site

His post led to an e-mail exchange between a UX architect from the official design team and himself, which he then posted in part to the blog (Curtis, May 22, 2009). Curtis wrote that he was shocked to learn that not only had a UX architect, but that judging from the UX architect’s other work, he was good. The UX architect’s response expressed his own frustration with the design and provided an explanation of how a collaborative writing project can go bad.

Curtis posted Mr. “X”’s full e-mail on his blog with permission from the writer provided that the writer’s name and some other information were withheld. Mr. X explained that the problem with the design of “lies less in our competency (or lack thereof, as you pointed out in your post) and more with the culture and processes employed here at American Airlines” (Curtis, May 22, 2009). He then describes the many people and departments involved in the website that resulted in a product lacking cohesion and focus:

The group running consists of at least 200 people spread out amongst many different groups, including, for example, QA, product planning, business analysis, code development, site operations, project planning, and user experience. We have a lot of people touching the site, and a lot more with their own vested interests in how the site presents its content and functionality. Fortunately, much of the public-facing functionality is funneled through UX, so any new features you see on the site should have been vetted through and designed by us before going public.

However, there are large exceptions. For example, our Interactive Marketing group designs and implements fare sales and specials (and doesn’t go through us to do it), and the Publishing group pushes content without much interaction with us… Oh, and don’t forget the AAdvantage team (which for some reason, runs its own little corner of the site) or the international sites (which have a lot of autonomy in how their domains are run)… Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is that is a huge corporate undertaking with a lot of tentacles that reach into a lot of interests. It’s not small, by any means. (Curtis, May 22, 2009)

Mr. X’s main point is that while redesigning a Web page is easy, “those of us who work in enterprise-level situations realize the momentum even a simple redesign must overcome.” The momentum he is referencing is fueled by the many outside voices that can impact or derail the success of a writing project. Momentum becomes negative when the outside voices hijack the project rather than work in a coordinated or collective collaborative fashion. Collective collaboration, as explained in Chapter 1 occurs when each person contributes to a project in coordination with everyone else. Such collaboration assumes both serial (each person contributes to a project in sequence) and parallel (each person contributes to a project concurrently) collaboration. The unfortunate result of an uncoordinated review process is the implementation of all stakeholder requests such that the project loses a unified focus. For the consumer, who is the forgotten audience in a review gone wild, the result can be an incomprehensible document, website, or other information product.

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