I remember the first article I handed to my writing mentor, worried that she would tear it apart and not consider me a writer at all. What I realized through the process was that I did have much to learn about quality writing, and that every writer needs an editor—even the most experienced writers. Also, I eventually realized that having my work edited was not a reflection on my value as a person. The reviewer was not passing judgment on me personally but pushing my writing to the next level of quality and clarity. As I moved through my career, from writing a few small pieces to handling the editorial process for a magazine, I have come to embrace the process of evaluation and to always be open to improvement.
There are two types of evaluation to build into your editorial cycle—an annual evaluation of the magazine, and an evaluation of each issue of the magazine. These same principles apply to digital as well as print projects. Since digital projects may not have a clear beginning and end but include a continuous stream of articles being posted online, the cycle could be defined as monthly or quarterly.
Build Evaluation Into Each Cycle of a Magazine
Once you go to print on your magazine, breath a sigh of relief, but take some time to debrief the issue with your team before you forget what worked and what could use improvement. Remember to keep the evaluation focused on concrete ways to improve quality. And, as I learned over time, evaluation isn’t focused on personal value but on the outcome of a project and how it fulfilled its purpose. Here are some questions to address in your evaluation meeting:
- Timing: What parts of the process were rushed and need more time? Where can you speed up the process and tighten the timeline?
- Communication: Were there any issues that were unclear between various teams working on the project? How did editorial, business, and design interact during the process? How could communication be improved? What worked well to keep communication on track?
- Roles on team: Consider the editorial review assignments—do you have enough people reviewing content? If you have a number of reviewers—do you need all of those eyes, or are some reviewers unnecessary?
- Writers: Who did a stellar job and should be given another assignment in the future? Who was hard to work with and could drop lower on your list of go-to writers?
- Process changes: Did you make changes on the process in the last evaluation? If so, how did those changes work? Do you need additional tweaks in the process? What might you want to change for the next cycle?
- Unexpected issues: There will always be something unexpected in a magazine cycle, and good planning gives you margin to deal with those unexpected issues. However, what can you learn from the unexpected situation? Is there a way to plan that could prevent that issue in the future?
An Annual Evaluation
In addition to evaluating and learning from each issue of a magazine, an annual evaluation will help you continue to improve the quality of your magazine. An annual evaluation can include all of the above questions, to make sure you are learning from your process and identifying process improvements. The annual evaluation will also look at the body of work your team produced over the year to assess how your magazine has fulfilled its purpose for your readers.
- Design Review: As your team considers all the issues for the year, which design elements worked best? Where did you take a design risk that helped draw the reader to a particular article? Where was the design below your usual standards and how could it have been improved? What are some design goals that you want to work toward in the coming year?
- Content Review: When you look at the body of work produced, what did your readers learn from you in the past year? This question pushes you to think of your overall content as a curriculum sequence. Are there some topics that are part of your magazine mission that were neglected in the past year? Are there some topics that were overdone? Consider all the types of article formats (interview, personal profile, news, testimony, devotional, how-to, etc.) — are there some types of articles that you want to have more of in the coming year? Any types that were overdone and should be de-emphasized?
The design review and content review can be done on a smaller scale for each issue but looking at the whole body of your work for a year provides a robust assessment of where you have been and how you have brought your reader along a path of growth during the year.
Make sure that topics discussed in your annual evaluation and your review of each issue are documented, with specific action items assigned for follow-up. These notes will become the foundation for the next evaluation process you undertake, as you again consider whether changes implemented in the past have had the desired outcome. Evaluation of your process and product is a continuous loop, not a one-time task. Over time you can celebrate the growth that you see in the quality of your magazine and the fulfillment of your purpose for your readers.
by Carla Foote, Fine Print Editorial