Thursday, April 6, 2017

Review Mirror

Months ago, Rich Rogers asked on Twitter for volunteers to review the book that he's writing, and I put my hand up. This week a draft arrived, and I put my hands up.

After the shock of having to follow through on my offer had worn off, I pondered how to go about the task. I've reviewed loads of books, but always with the luxury of pulling out just the things that interest me. I can't recall giving detailed feedback on something book-length before and I wanted to do a thorough job.

I liked the idea of an approach that combined reaction and reflection. Reaction is an "inline" activity. I can read the book and provide my System 1 responses as I go. Because they are instinctive I don't need to interrupt my flow significantly to capture them. My reactions can then be data for my reflection, where my System 2 processes try to make sense of the whole.

That seemed reasonable. But I'm a tester so I framed it as a mission:
Explore the manuscript using both reaction and reflection to provide Rich with a review that's more than skin deep.
The reactions were easy to deliver as comments in the online editor that Rich is using. I applied a few ground rules: no reading ahead, no reading of any passage more than three times, no reflection. I broke only the last rule, and only once: there's a pivotal chapter in the book that didn't hang together well for me, even after repeated reading, and I took a few moments to give an overview when I'd finished it.

Once I'd got to the end of the final section, I put the book away and did nothing on it for day or so. Reflections that had been forming while I read began to solidify and I started looking for a way to organise them. As usual, I wrote, and in writing I saw a pattern. I had three classes of notes:
  • feelings: I did not attempt to justify
  • observations: I had tried to justify
  • suggestions: I could both justify and explain
This wasn't a breakdown that I could say I'd seen elsewhere but it felt like a natural one. (Writing this later, I wonder whether it's influenced by PROOF - Past, Results, Obstacles, Outlook, Feelings. I'm a FOP, perhaps?)

In any case, I delivered my reflections to Rich. He didn't agree with everything, but seemed happy enough on the whole:

And now I get something for myself: reflecting on what I did.

1 comment:

  1. From my perspective your methods worked really well. It was extremely helpful to understand your feelings about the book. Having been so close to the subject, and the text for so many months, it was increasingly difficult to trust my own feelings about what might work well and perhaps where things needed shaking up a little. Understanding how you felt when you read it has helped to clarify my own feelings on where I need to add information, or change the structure.

    Another important point for me was your approach in providing responses. The language you used was helpful and objective and allowed me (as the 'designer' or 'developer' in this exercise) to consider your observations and suggestions. There is an important lesson here for anyone involved in testing someone else's work. Had you presented me with a list of 'defects', I might have felt differently. On this note, it was also interesting that your view of some of the descriptive language in the book differed significantly from that of another reviewer. Where they felt that the descriptions were helpful in creating a connection, you saw some of the language as perhaps something of a distraction. The subjective views of a product - what might be a 'defect' to one person may be an 'enhancement' to another.

    Thanks again James. At the risk of creating more work for you, I would definitely recommend that other prospective authors consider enlisting your help in future!