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Stalking the wild reviewer

by Geoff Hart

Previously published as: Hart, G.J. 2002. Stalking the wild reviewer. Intercom December:36.

Those of us old enough to remember Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom TV show (http://www.wildkingdom.com/nostalgia/index.html) fondly remember the host, Marlin Perkins, calmly revealing nature’s secrets while his intrepid assistant Jim Fowler, a safe distance away, risked life and limb holding some ferocious creature still long enough for it to be filmed. Sometimes getting reviewers to review feels like starring in an episode of Wild Kingdom; you have to stalk them in their native habitat—a task that demands intimate knowledge of each species’ natural behavior plus a hunter’s patience and persistence. The goal of this article is to help ensure that when it comes to reviews, you play Marlin’s role, not Jim’s. To succeed, you’ve got to know your wildlife.

Sloooow movers

In Einstein’s theory of relativity, subjective perceptions of time slow down as you approach the speed of light—a phenomenon called “time dilation”. The faster they move, the longer the review takes. Warning sign: Relativistic reviewers move so fast you can barely hold them still long enough to hear what you want, and though speed suggests efficiency, the reality proves quite different.

Social butterflies

These lepidopterous folk happily spend their lives flitting from meeting to meeting or conversation to conversation. “Let’s meet to discuss this”, ordinarily something you want to hear, is a warning that what should be an hour-long task (a simple read-through of your documentation) will turn into a series of multi-hour meetings. Though you’ll eventually get a good review, you’ll find yourself wanting to pin them to a corkboard and affix a Latin name to their foreheads long before then. Warning sign: They never miss an opportunity to gossip, and don’t recognize the concept of “personal space”.

Tongue-tied techies

These reviewers find communication a more serious a challenge than the thorniest problems encountered in developing their product. Warning sign: Incoherent conversation is their watchword, and a clue the situation won’t improve in writing. Legible sentences are not in their behavioral repertoire, and only a forensic linguist can decipher their scrawls.

Frustrated painters

The same logic that leads electricians to use different colors of wiring for each connection leads these reviewers to develop complex coding schemes based on different ink colors for each type of review comment. Apart from the enormous delays imposed by their frenetic switching of pens, you’ll need hours of practice to learn their coding schemes and extract the information you need. Warning sign: Any desk with more than two colors of highlighter marker.

Moving targets

You know these guys by the interfaces they develop: never satisfied, they constantly tweak, revise, and modify their product. Consequently, the documentation never quite matches the product—even after the interface freeze. Warning sign: The presence of a lava lamp, Nerf-brand products, or random lumps of Play-Doh.

The immovable object

These reviewers have such large chips on their shoulder there isn’t enough salsa in San Jose to make them palatable. Warning sign: Their eagerness to debate anything—the weather, the project, or even the date, let alone anything you’ve written—no matter how unassailable the facts.

Hygienists

Close cousins of the immovable object, these characters get so busy picking nits and debating the merits of the “serial comma” that they miss glaring factual errors. Warning sign: The presence of more than one style guide in their office.

Foresters

“Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow” describes their innocent battle cry of “it’s only a small change”. Maybe they were right—6 months ago, when the change would have been trivial—but now the correction would require major reworking of the documentation. Warning sign: The guileless, innocent look of someone about to request a favor.

Archivists

The human equivalent of a pack rat. Modern archivists choke their computers with e-mail dating back to the pre-Microsoft days, when e-mail was still written in cuneiform. Even a search utility won’t find your messages, and whatever you send vanishes into this person’s private equivalent of the National Archives. Warning sign: A desk piled so high with paper that the organic matter has begun to transform into crude oil under the pressure.

Living the vida loca

Pay close attention to the characteristics of your reviewers and you’ll be master of the wildlife rather than living the wild life trying to master the review process.


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