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I have a new definition for comments: a soap box for us all. What better way to tell someone you are writing a document with, someone who is writing a blog post for a large corporation, or a someone who's writing a business analysis what you think about their writing, product, or business advice, than to comment on it. And it's getting better and better. I've noticed that unsubstantiated anonymous criticisms are becoming the exception on at least this blog, and that the vast majority of your comments are great suggestions that at times result in a great conversation between two people that would likely never have had a chance talk otherwise. My favorite example is the conversation I had with Julie Watson about the compatibility guide for the 'end user' post. Very cool, very helpful.
Getting off of my soapbox, I see the primary goodness of comments being that readers are able to provide their input while respecting the integrity of the original document. Secondary goodness is the ability to make comments contextual and manageable.
Thankfully for this post, both classes of commenting goodness are available in Word 2007. The rest of this post will chat a bit more about this.
I have found that comments are used predominantly on relatively well thought out drafts of documents. The scenario is: "Here's a draft of the proposal Sally and Bill. Could you provide some comments?" Contrast this with an outline being passed around for co-authoring, or a document being reviewed for spelling errors.
Given the state of the document, comments' primary value is that they enable feedback while not dirtying the original document. Comments that dirty the document look like this: <Jonathan Bailor> The expectation with this type of inline comment is that by setting this off via tags, color, and font, I've differentiated this text enough that the author won't finalize the document with it still in it, but will rather, will delete it wholesale after noting my feedback </Jonathan Bailor>. These are generally called 'inline comments'. In my experience, this type of technique will cause badness because sooner or later someone will forget to delete an inline comment. This results in badness all around as the types of documents that you usually have comments in them are exactly the types of documents you need to be able to 'clean' easily. We're talking requests for proposals and final papers versus emails to friends.
To avoid this badness, we really need comments that are separate from the document itself. There's two ways to do this. First, you can do what this blog does: have a separate list of comments. Second, you can do what Word does: put the comments in the on another 'layer' within the document itself. The first protects the integrity of the document, but at the cost of context and manageability. We all know how much of a pain it can be to comment on specific portions of a blog post (context pain). And, if you write a blog, you know how hard it can be to keep track of the comments you have responded to (manageability pain). The second commenting approach allows for commenting in context, while protecting the integrity of the document, if a set of comment management tools are provided.
Fortunately Word 2007 provides comment management tools and that's what we'll talk about next.
If you've ever used comments in Word [Review tab, Comments chunk, New Comment button] you know they are show in context. Specifically, they wrap the text being commented on:
You've also likely noticed that comments are colored, have author initials associated with them, and are numbered. This allows for handy comment management. Consider a document with comments from more than one person:
<aside> While I understand that some people may perceive this as making your document "look like an explosion in a paint factory," it makes it nearly impossible to keep comments in your document inadvertently. You can hide the coloring and comment via [Review tab, Tracking chunk, Show Markup button, uncheck Comments] or [Review tab, Tracking chunk, change Final Showing Markup to Final] </aside>
This comment data—author and number—allow for handy comment management such as:
[Review tab, Tracking chunk, Reviewing Pane button, Reviewing Pane Vertical button]
[Review tab, Tracking chunk, Show Markup button, Reviewers button, uncheck Reviewers whose comments you don't want to see]
And of course, you can navigate, add, and delete comments via the Comments chunk on the Review tab.
So you've got contextual and manageable comments that respect the layout and content of the original document. More powerful soapboxes for us all. Comment goodness.
Let me know what you think, what you want, what you like, what you don't like…and enjoy David's comic comment commentary.
Updated the comic to contain the one that David actually created for this post. Sorry David :) -Jonathan (MS)
Love that cartoon, David! -Roxanne