The Art of Annotating A Shared Document

When it comes to workplace projects, collaboration is the name of the game. Technology makes it easier than ever for us to connect with people, which has dramatically expanded professional networks everywhere. From your office– or even your desk at home– you can collaborate with specialists from another organization in your city or people on the other side of the globe.

For teams taking advantage of everything online content collaboration has to offer, effectively annotating shared documents is a skill that’s best learned sooner rather than later.

In this article, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to master the art of annotating a document, including:

  • Why giving good feedback is important
  • How to deliver feedback effectively
  • Accepting feedback from others

a group of three people looking at a laptop

Writing effective annotations and giving good feedback are essential to helping your team get the most out of their experience.

Good Feedback Begets Good Work

One of the most exciting parts about working in a team is that it brings people from all different backgrounds with a variety of different skill sets together in pursuit of a common goal. When you have that many unique people focused on solving a single problem or tackling a certain task, the results are bound to be interesting. Collaboration is, perhaps, the single best way to boost innovation and creativity in the workplace– if you do it right.

So how do make sure you’re taking full advantage of your team’s expertise?

How do you ensure that being a part of the team doesn’t just get a project done– it benefits the team members as well?

You guessed it! Getting the best work out of your team and providing the best experience to your team members all comes back to giving good feedback.

Just to clarify, “good” feedback isn’t just a compliment (“Nice work!”). It’s feedback that really helps your employees or team members learn, grow, or improve. Good feedback can range from constructive criticism, to sharing an experience that may help improve someone’s strategy, to pointing out something that has been done exceptionally well.

This is particularly important when you’re delivering feedback via digital annotations– without the benefit of face-to-face interaction, it’s particularly important to make sure that your feedback is clear and well-crafted.

feedback written on a chalkboard

Providing feedback via annotations is a great way to help your whole team grow– as long as you do it correctly!

Annotating Documents the Right Way

Whether you are offering a colleague an opportunity for improvement or commending an employee on an accomplishment, there are a few simple things you can do to make sure you accurately convey your feedback:

  • Establish context
  • Give your thoughts
  • Turn to the future

1. Establish Context

In a face-to-face conversation, this would mean identifying the where and when of your feedback to make sure everyone understands the event you’re talking about. When it comes to commenting on a shared document, establishing context is as simple as identifying the part of the document to which you are referring.

How to do it: Select only the most relevant part of the document and leave a comment, whether that means a whole sentence or a single word. If you have feedback on a larger section of the work as a whole, consider breaking your feedback into smaller comments or leaving your general feedback linked to the section heading.

2. Give Your Thoughts

This is the hardest part of giving good feedback, but it’s also the most important. People are natural storytellers, which can make it difficult to pull an objective observation out of what you have witnessed or experienced

How to do it:  Start your annotation off by identifying what you have selected. Is it a graph that may be labeled incorrectly? Or perhaps a particularly well-crafted paragraph? After you have identified what you’re looking at, explain your thoughts. Be as specific as possible. If something is unclear to you, don’t be afraid to ask a question and begin a dialogue about the topic.

3. Turn Toward the Future

When you’re giving constructive criticism, it’s important to frame your feedback as an opportunity for improvement, which naturally turns your comments towards what could be done in the future. However, concluding your feedback with a nod towards the future is a great practice for other types of feedback as well.

How to do it: What kind of change do you want your feedback to produce? Whether you think your suggest could improve the project in this particular instance, feel that you have stumbled upon a way of improving your team’s overall process moving forward, or simply want to reinforce something you saw and like, find a way to clearly (and kindly) state what you think the outcome of your feedback should be.

a man looking frustrated in front of his laptop

If you are providing annotations, chances are that you’re receiving them as well. What should you do when the feedback starts coming in?

What to Do with Annotations on Your Own Work

Just like there’s an art to creating good feedback, there’s an art to receiving and responding to feedback. It’s not always easy to evaluate the quality of the feedback you’ve been given, especially if somebody has challenged or critiqued your work.

When reviewing annotations other people have left on your work, remember:

  • Take a deep breath. Feedback– particularly constructive criticism– is an opportunity for you to learn and improve. Try to set aside any emotions you might be feeling regarding the feedback and look at it objectively.
  • Assess the feedback. As we’ve discussed, not all feedback is good, high-quality feedback. Does it seem reasonable? Do you understand the annotator’s perspective?
  • Categorize the feedback. Identify the main idea that the feedback is trying to convey. Consider it against other feedback you have gotten to gain a better understanding of how your work is perceived overall– it will help you pinpoint any positive or negative habits you may have.
  • Respond. If something is unclear, ask the annotator for clarification. If someone has pointed out a strength, thank them– it never hurts to be gracious!

a team with their hands in together

Mastering the art of annotation is a simple way to help your whole team succeed.

Annotating shared documents is an essential part of collaboration. Whether you are creating annotations on someone else’s document or reviewing annotations on your own work, these strategies will help you get the most out of your collaboration.

Do you have any tips for effectively commenting on a document or interpreting feedback? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

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.

Melissa Pallotti is a professional writer, computer geek, and hockey fan based in Pittsburgh, PA. You can connect with Melissa on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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