How to write with too many cooks

We all know the proverb “too many cooks spoil the broth.” This most definitely applies to writing. It’s difficult to produce something focused and clear with lots of people involved… but in large organizations, you’ll often run into situations where that’s exactly what you’re dealing with. 

The last thing you want is a Frankendoc - a mish mash of different styles and priorities that is hard to follow and forgettable. So how do you manage the process? Here are a few principles for getting it right.

  1. Control access

The first mistake you make is by letting people edit directly. Change the access settings so that people can only comment. This helps set the tone that you are the editor for the piece and holding the pen for any stylistic changes.

  1. Be clear about what you’re asking for

If you work in a big organization, and you’re working on a big memo or presentation, you’ll have product people, PR people, lawyers, marketers and more all with an interest. Everyone has a valuable perspective, but you need to be careful of avoiding a free for all. You don’t need the lawyer rewording the section on product benefits to make it “flow better.” This is the road to death by a thousand cuts. 

The easiest way to avoid this is by asking people up front to stay in their lanes when reviewing. Specifically ask your lawyers to evaluate only for legal issues, the marketing teams only for messaging, etc. You can even make a little responsibilities table at the top of the doc.

People are busy, so they are generally very happy with a narrower remit that lets them give just their part the thumbs up without having to weigh in on everything else.

  1. Own the process

Think like an owner. No matter how many people get involved, it’s YOUR responsibility to deliver something that is coherent. That means you can’t be afraid to reject input and suggestions, or rewrite things so that it’s clear. Be polite but firm. And don’t let comments sit in the doc unresolved for too long. Open comments make people feel more comfortable adding their own - so your challenges multiply!

  1. Ask for help

Even if you’re holding the pen, it doesn’t mean you have to be an expert at everything. Invite feedback from others - maybe a colleague who has written similar memos before, or someone who understands what a good launch page looks like for a new product.

Just make sure you’ve set the parameters above for your other reviewers. That way, having a few trusted people give you feedback on the piece as a whole won’t cause a stampede of suggestions you can’t use.

Need an extra cook to help with something you’re writing? Just hit reply and we’ll be happy to take a quick look!