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How many content reviewers are enough?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a perfectly simple, data-driven answer to that question? “Based on an analysis of 1,000 writing assignments, we’ve found that four reviewers are enough to catch 99.99% of style and usage errors.” Hooray, the answer is four! Have four people review your content and everything will be perfect!

Except, no. Even if my made up stat were true, that only addresses proofing your content, not editing. Proofing catches errors. Editing improves what you’ve written. They both happen after creating your draft, but they aren’t the same thing. And that doesn’t even get us up to reviewing. What the hell is reviewing? (More on that in a minute.)

Look, I get it. You’re asking the question, and you want that clear-cut answer, because your process is hell and you want the higher-ups to trust your expertise and let you do your job. It feels like everybody and their cousin wants to “look at” or “check over” or “review” the content before it goes out, and you’re drowning in messy, unaligned feedback. This mess, though? It’s kiiiiiiinda your fault. Or at least it might be.

Accepting the role of writer for a content assignment means that your job – regardless of job title – is to steward the writing throughout the content development process. That means that you need to understand and articulate what is necessary to scope, draft, edit, proof, and finish your writing assignment, and to ensure that everyone else involved understands it, too.

It sucks if the content development process is not well-articulated in your organization, and that you are having to do work that it seems like a content strategist should be doing for you, but those are the breaks.

Now that you know what your job is, let’s get back to the question. How many people is too many to review the content? It’s a good question, but it’s not a sensible question. The problem is that review can mean whatever anyone wants it to mean. Does review mean:

  • Give it an early read to help you get unstuck?
  • Proofread the draft against a house style guide?
  • Evaluate the facts and figures of the content for accuracy?
  • Assess the draft against best practices for web content and accessibility?
  • Pick nits to assert dominance over everything a certain executive can lay their hands on? 

Instead of asking how many people should review the content, you need to figure out in specific ways who needs to contribute to the content, when, and why. And when you involve those people, you need to know exactly what you’re asking of them. Ambiguous “content reviews” are often accompanied with equally ambiguous instructions like “let me know what you think.”

Strive for better questions. Articulate what you’re asking for and how the feedback will be used. For instance:

  • Please let me know if this article accurately reflects the details of the new pricing plan. We have until the end of the week to correct any details based on your feedback.
  • I’d love to get your suggestions on how this how-to guide could be improved for an audience of new customers. Your feedback will help us prioritize opportunities for improving the article.
  • We’re about to send this draft over for QA and compliance review. Can you give it a once over and help me catch any obvious errors so I don’t look like a doofus?

Figure out who you’re involving in the content development process, why you’re involving them, and what you’re going to do with their feedback, and you’ll have an answer to your question about the right number of people to review it. I suspect it’s going to be between 1 and 100, but you’ll have to determine the details for yourself. Good luck!

(All that being said, there’s another way to take this question with a very simple answer. If the question is “How many people should have the ultimate authority to decide whether or not this content gets published or removed?”, the answer is one. Every channel should have an owner with editor-in-chief like authority. But that’s a whole other can of worms.)