How to Manage Multiple Test Readers

If you’re working on a large piece of writing, it’s a good idea to have a some “test readers” read your work.  Test readers can help you find problems (like typos and grammatical errors) in your work and can also give you good, honest feedback about it.  Did your writing draw them in?  Did it help them somehow?  Did it conjure the right images and provoke the right ideas?  Seriously, having test readers is a no-brainer.  Just hand out your work to a few trusted friends and see what they think.

When you hand out your work to multiple people, each person is going to have different comments and will try to give you those comments in a different way.  It can get pretty time-consuming to address each reader’s comments.  How do you handle that complexity?  By developing a system and soliciting comments from everyone in the same way.

Track Changes

Change Tracking

Change Tracking and Comments in action.

First, you need to get familiar with “track changes” and comments in Microsoft Word.  Before you send out your work, click the Review tab and then click the “Track Changes” button.  Now Word will track all changes made to this document by showing them in a different color for each user.  Now your test reader can type or delete anything they want in the document, and it will be highlighted as a change for you to either approve or reject.  Change tracking lets your test readers go nuts and rewrite anything they want without permanently altering your work.

Comments are also helpful for reviewers.  Select the Review tab again, highlight a block of text, and then click “New Comment.”  A comment bubble will be shown in the margin and will be attached to the text you highlighted.  For example, a test reader can highlight a word of your text, attach a comment to it, and type “Are you sure you want to use this word here?” in the comment bubble.  Comments make it incredibly easy for readers to share their thoughts with you.

Step-by-Step System

Here’s the system I follow to send my work to test readers and then incorporate their comments when I get the files back.

  1. Explain track changes and comments to your test readers.
  2. Create a copy of your file for each test reader, preferably with their name in the filename.  For example, you could have “Copy of book for John.docx” and “Copy of book for Sue.docx”.  This will make it easy to track each reader’s comments.
  3. In each copy that you will be mailing out, open it, turn on Track Changes, save and close.
  4. Email the copies to each respective test reader.
  5. Make a folder named “archive” in the folder where your book is stored.
  6. When a file is returned to you with comments, immediately make a copy and rename it as an original.  For example, you could end up with these two documents: “Sue’s comments original.docx” and “Sue’s comments.docx”.  Move the original into the archive folder.
  7. Now open both your master copy of your work and the test reader’s copy.
  8. In the test reader’s copy, click the Review tab and then click the “Next” button.  This will take you to the next change or comment they made in the document.
  9. If you accept the reader’s change or comment, make the change in your master copy.
  10. When you are done considering that change or comment, accept, reject, or delete it from the reader’s copy.  You can accept or reject changes with the “Accept” and “Reject” button under the Review tab.  You can delete readers’ comment bubbles by clicking the “Delete” button under the review tab.  This will make the list of changes in the reader’s copy shrink and help you keep track of what you have already considered.  Remember that you won’t lose their comments forever; you still have the original in your archive folder.
  11. Continue clicking the “Next” button until you have reviewed and handled every change and comment your test reader made.
  12. Move that test reader’s copy into the archive folder.
  13. Repeat steps 6-12 for each copy you get back from a test reader.

This system can save you much time and frustration in getting comments back from test readers.  By using this “soft copy” system, you make it easier for yourself to track and handle all the different comments from different readers.  And because your test readers are working with copies, you can maintain complete control of your master document and incorporate only the comments you want.

This system is working for me, but I’m always interested in improving my productivity.  Do you have a system for managing comments from test readers?  If so, please comment below.  Thanks!

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