How to Effectively Review Other People’s Work

Being able to review another persons work is one of those extremely valuable skills that someone shooting for any kind of leadership position needs to master. It can be a very challenging and intimidating task, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Below I’ve outlined some basic tips that will help you to not only be up to the task, but excel at it as well.

To note: The kind of review that I will be referencing for this article is what I call an In-Depth Review. That means that it is for both content as well as your basic grammar and spelling.

  • Be familiar with the subject matter – This may seem like a no-brainer if you’re doing a content review, however you might be surprised how often this is not the case. If you’re not familiar enough with the subject to make a good review, let them know. The last thing you want to do is make their work worse after they incorporate your comments. One of the worst outcomes of this is that one of your comments could make their work actually incorrect, which can cascade into a bunch of different issues.
  • Have a template for your comments – Many a time I’ve had someone return my work to me with their comments scattered all over the document, making me search through the document to find out what they said. This is a very time consuming process, and it also leaves room to miss a comment, especially if it’s a large document. Don’t get me wrong, it’s OK to make inline comments, however you should also mark where these comments are in a predefined template. This template is usually pretty basic, a simple example would contain the name of the reviewer, date of the review, work being reviewed, and then for each comment there would be a reference number, location, and description.
  • Be descriptive – If you’re going to make a comment, make sure you explain exactly what you are trying to get at. It doesn’t have to be a thesis, but writing down “Wrong” won’t cut it and only leads to you having to explain each comment. A few short sentences should usually be sufficient to explain yourself. They should contain what you are referencing, and how you think it needs to be changed. If you need more than that, it’s probably just better to note your comment and talk to them about it.
  • Be constructive with your criticism – This goes hand-in-hand with the point above. If you think something needs rework, don’t put “This sucks, get rid of all of it then play in traffic”. While it may be true that they need to do a lot of work, instead of pure negative criticism suggest a way in which it can be improved.
  • Be objective – This might be the most important piece of advice I can give you. Lot’s of times at work we are asked to review the work of someone who we might not necessarily like or respect. This should NOT be brought into play when you actually do their review. Remember, you are reviewing their work, not them personally. Even though you may not like them, their work could be important to your project. Making it worse or not helping to improve that product will do you no good in the long run.
  • Make sure you have the latest version – This is a two way street. While it is the other persons responsibility to make sure you have the latest and greatest copy of their work to review, it will be your time that is wasted if you review the wrong copy. Before you start reviewing, do a final check with them to make sure you have the correct copy.
  • Set aside conference time – Make sure that you are prepared to take some time out and answer questions about your review. I’ve never had a review where either I wasn’t asked questions or asked questions myself. Know this is going to happen, and try to plan accordingly. A good idea if you are pressed for time during the day is to schedule a time to go over the review, and make sure that they have all their questions ready for you when you meet.

I can’t stress this enough: Being able to effectively and thoroughly review someone else’s work is one of the most important skills you can develop in today’s workplace. Leading others is one of the major milestones in most people’s careers, and in order to do that you need to be able to review what they produce.

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