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Acrobat Features Turbocharge the Online Review Process
2003, Q4 (February 21, 2007)
By Charlie Gravel, Member

One of the more tedious and error-prone processes in technical writing is that of collaborative document review. Even when documents are shared electronically, keeping track of comments, suggestions, and changes contributed by multiple team members can be exasperating. Too often errors due to collaborative review lead to delays, missed deadlines, misunderstandings and an inaccurate final document.

Those who attended the STC Carolina August 2003 monthly meeting heard from Terry Smith about how order can be maintained during collaborative document review, and specifically how Adobe Acrobat® can facilitate order. Terry, a senior technical writer at Per-Se Technologies and chair of the FrameMaker Users special interest group, offered a presentation entitled Using Adobe Acrobat for Online Review before an audience of thirtyseven at SAS Institute.

For Acrobat novices, Terry's session was a welcome overview. After summarizing the goals and objectives of effective online review, she stepped the group through the three types of solutions available from Adobe for online review using Acrobat products: Acrobat Reader®, Adobe Acrobat®, and Adobe Document Server for Reader®. While the bulk of the discussion centered on features available in Acrobat 5.0, Terry also demonstrated some of the bells and whistles introduced into version 6.0, which now is available.

The group learned how document review can be implemented in an "out-of-the-box" fashion, in which each reviewer receives a copy of the file and works more or less independently, either in daisy-chain fashion or using separate documents that get combined later. According to Terry, this is the easiest, least expensive, and most common method of collaborative review.

An alternative approach has multiple reviewers working on the same copy of the PDF file simultaneously, and allows them to see other reviewers' comments. In this method, the PDF file is opened in a web browser and comments are stored outside the file. Comments are viewable by all reviewers at once. This approach requires more setup and user training, but uses standard server technologies that keep costs to a minimum. This and the previous method require the full Adobe Acrobat product.

The "full-blown" alternative Terry described is an implementation of Adobe Document Server for Reader Extensions. This relatively expensive solution has the advantage of allowing reviewers to not only read, but also add comments using Acrobat itself, thereby reducing confusion generated by email exchanges between participants.

Watching Terry demonstrate the Acrobat features that facilitate online document review was entertaining and instructional. She demonstrated many of the tools available, such as highlight, strikeout and underline, and showed how the pop-up boxes operate. She also stressed the importance of user training and pointed out a few areas where it is easy to get tripped up – for example, not understanding the difference between making changes to the actual text and highlighted text, which is actually just a form of "pop-up." Getting users to understand that every comment has a pop-up box associated with it can be difficult, she said, and she advised new users to explore the product carefully.

This presentation benefited from Terry's "real-world" knowledge and expertise with the Adobe products. Useful handouts included slides of the presentation and quick reference pages from an Acrobat training class. Even veteran Acrobat users who attended were likely to pick up a few tidbits. Websites given for more information included: http://www.adobe.com, http://www.pdfplanet.com, http://www.pdfzone.com and http://www.microtype.com.

Charlie Gravel is an IT professional and freelance technical writer with experience in the field of managed healthcare insurance. He can be reached at c dot gravel at earthlink dot net End of article.

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