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Persuading reviewers to review

by Geoff Hart

Previously published, in a different form, as: Hart, G.J. 2000. Getting reviewers to review. Intercom, April: 44.

There are many touchy-feely, New Age ways to persuade reviewers to review your documentation. Sadly, none of them work. In the week before the review is due, you’ll pass by their offices to check, and the well-fed spiders that have turned your documents into web hosts bear ample witness to the fact that nobody’s even glanced at the docs. If you really want to get the reviews on time, you’re going to have to apply a little pressure. A few suggestions:

  1. When the reviewers are away from their desks, launch their personal information manager and add a reminder that the review is due. Set the reminder to pop up every 15 minutes until the due date. Few will know this software is on their machine (often in the form of Microsoft Outlook), and thus, they won’t know how to turn off the reminder. Rather than calling technical support for help and blowing their technogeek reputation, most reviewers will find it easier to complete the review and beg you to turn off the reminder.
  2. About 3 days before the review is due, wander by the office of a delinquent reviewer. Lurk in the shadows until the reviewer appears lost in thought, then sneak into the office, slam your hand on the desk, and shout "which part of 1 week did you fail to understand?" Substitute a a baseball bat (or hockey stick, if you’re Canadian) for larger, more truculent SMEs. Warning: Don’t try this on reviewers with potentially weak hearts.
  3. Visit the reviewers, bringing your chair, and park yourself at the edge of their peripheral vision. ("Don't mind me; I'll just make myself comfortable until you've finished the review.") Neglecting to bathe for a few nights enhances the persuasive power of this tool, as does whistling the same song endlessly and tunelessly.
  4. Page the reviewer on the company-wide intercom. “John? It’s Geoff… remember that review you promised me? It’s still not in yet. Any chance of returning it this millennium?”
  5. Kidnap a favorite cubicle toy and leave a ransom note pasted together from miscellaneous words cut from previous versions of the documentation. (If necessary, use a recent issue of Dr. Dobbs’ Journal. Be warned: this may inspire reprisals.) The ransom? A complete and satisfactory review.
  6. Inform each tardy reviewer that everyone else (except one other guy you don’t name) has already completed the review, and that their manager is wondering what’s up with these two delinquents. Odds are, anyone who investigates and finds another reviewer whose review isn’t done will think they’re talking to that mysterious other person.
  7. Hire a performer in an outrageous outfit to deliver a singing telegram. Closer to Fine by The Indigo Girls is strangely appropriate. (If you’re on a tight budget, singing only one stanza should suffice: “I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper and I was free”.) Bill this expense to the “development” budget; it’s never audited too closely.
  8. Use Marketing’s tabloid-size inkjet printer to create “Wanted” posters that you can hang in the cafeteria. Include scanned photos of the malefactors, and offer a hefty reward (e.g., pizza and beer) for anyone able to coerce them to complete the review.
  9. If the reviewer has an office with a door, enlist the rest of the documentation team and about twenty small coins (pennies are traditional). While everyone else leans on the door, trapping the reviewer in the office, press the pennies into the gap between the door and its frame, beside the handle. When you can no longer insert another penny, only superhuman reviewers will be able to turn the door handle far enough to force the door open from the inside. Offer to let the prisoner out for a bathroom break only once the reviews have been passed under the door.
  10. Suggest that you and the reviewer get in touch with your sensitive, New Age sides and negotiate a mutually respectful settlement about the date and hour they’ll begin the review. If that’s not enough to scare them, repeat steps 1 through 9, as required.

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