The Do’s and Don’ts of Annotating a Shared Document

If you were to pull out your own old copy of a book from your high school English class—maybe To Kill a Mockingbird or Of Mice and Men—chances are it’s riddled with all kinds of markings (at least if you tried hard in English class). The annotations were useful in remembering where you found an extended metaphor or a beautifully-written paragraph, with the added bonus of breaking the rules and writing in your book.

Implementing shared and annotated documents into your workplace routine is great for enhancing collaboration.

While there’s no internal sense of rule breaking with annotating a document on your computer, it is still an extremely useful way to make note of something you find that is really working for the rest of the document—or maybe not so much. John Steinbeck probably isn’t paying attention to what you write in the margins of his beloved classic, but the author of your workplace’s shared document would likely benefit from others’ input. And who knows? Maybe you will learn something along the way.

Seems simple, right? Highlight, comment, send. But not so fast: It’s worthwhile for you, the author, and anyone else reading the document to put in their two cents.

Why bother?

Right now, you may be thinking, “Why bother with the extra work? How does it benefit myself or anyone else?” Short version: it’s worth it.

Don’t shake off the potential benefits

Think about it—making note of the importance of annotating in this article makes you more likely to think about this section when you think about annotating. It’s a cycle of highlighting information for readers to come. Annotation-ception.

When you annotate someone else’s work, it is more effective than just mentioning it during an in-person conversation, or worse—glossing over the issue altogether.

Do think about what you can bring to the table

Sharing documents and working on them together is a perfect way to show off your office’s efficient collaboration. Annotating someone else’s work is a great way to point out your perspective, which may consist of things the original author had not previously thought of. Your workplace has plenty of creative thinkers of different backgrounds and skill sets, and each of those perspectives is able to bring something to the table that others can’t. So by utilizing annotation technologies and strategies, you can ground your thoughts and perspective with online highlighters or sticky notes.

Try to give thorough feedback during your annotations to help your coworker think about something they may have missed.

How do I do this?

Like we said before, it takes more than just a quick comment for something to count as an effective annotation.

Don’t just settle on a compliment

If “nice work!” was the only feedback you received from your piano instructor, would you really be learning the piano? This same line of thinking goes for annotating shared documents. While you guys are coworkers and this isn’t a student-teacher relationship, we’re all constantly learning and can ease that process by learning from others around us.

Do give thorough feedback

Not to say it’s not worthwhile to point out good work when you see it. When you read something that stands out to you, make a note of it and help the author see something they maybe haven’t thought of before. Flesh out any thoughts you may be having in those annotations, because there’s a chance they could lead to some positive change.

Don’t be weary of constructive criticism

While it may be nerve-wracking to leave a constructive comment, it will benefit the author and your workplace in the long run. Be straight to the point while still being thorough. Remember to be kind in order for your coworker to understand what you’re saying and be interested in taking your advice.

When you see something you like, let the author know! Everyone likes being told they did a good job, but blanket statements and vague compliments won’t do it. Hone in on a point or paragraph you really liked or thought was effective and let the writer know. Your coworker is likely to remember the gist of the point they wrote because you emphasized it with your annotation and gave the reader thorough, positive feedback.

Regardless of what your feedback is trying to achieve in the short-run, it’s always coming from a perspective of what the audience wants to see in the future. Giving positive feedback works as a reinforcer of good habits. Conversely, when you give constructive criticism, give your coworker some ideas as to how they can fix this and how they could do better in the future.

Online content collaboration is certainly different from in-person communication.

From books and in person to the web

Since content collaboration is often done online, it’s important to keep in mind some of the caveats that come with working in this online world.

Do make use of the various technologies available to you

Modern technology has made daily life so much easier, and 21st century technology advancements have certainly permeated through most workforces. When sharing documents with your workplace, be sure to utilize all of the built-in technologies the platforms you are using have to offer. Lay on that highlight, maybe even some color-coding! For example, Dropbox Paper has several tools to make annotating and commenting on work in progress simple. Additionally, Dropbox allows you to preview and annotate shared documents without having to have the native application installed (e.g.PowerPoint, Word, Acrobat, etc).

Don’t forget that coworkers might not read it the same way you do

Because much of the workspace is online, it’s possible you may be collaborating on a project without speaking to each other in person. There’s a few things to keep in mind with this. For one, there’s no way to convey tone when you’re not using your voice. So try not to sound snarky when leaving comments, and when you think a coworker might sound a little too critical when annotating work done by you, try not to think the worst. Being conscientious and level-headed can help avoid unnecessary roadblocks.

Now, you and your workplace are well-versed in annotations. After seeing the benefits that come from collaboration, you can consider implementing some of these techniques into your routine.

What other questions do you have about annotating shared documents? Let us know in the comments!

This is a sponsored post for Dropbox. All opinions are my own. Dropbox is not affiliated with nor endorses any other products or services mentioned.