Thursday, August 1, 2013

Does anyone know what version this is?

Don't let this happen to you.
As a writer I've worked with a lot of consultants and executives over the years, and the subject matter is typically leading edge ideas about business, economics or technology. I can keep up with that. I can also handle the writing.

What drives me nuts is version control.

It's not unusual to get into a double-digit number of versions of, say, a book chapter or a journal article. Sometimes there are several people on the other end. Sometimes there's a whole committee.

And everyone has his own ideas about naming files. I try to play traffic cop, usually with little success. That means people pay me to sit here and try to figure out who just did what.

Let me make a suggestion, even though I know it won't do any good. In fact, since nobody will pay it any attention, let me just be dogmatic about it. Here's how to name your files:

Create a folder named Our Book.
Create a subfolder named Our Book Chapter One
Create a file named Our Book Chapter One 1.0

1.0 always means the very first draft.

When anyone makes a change to draft 1.0, the file is renamed Our Book Chapter One 1.1.

When anyone makes a major revision, he or she renames the file Our Book Chapter One 2.0. The decision to go to 2.0 is arbitrary, so just do it if it feels right.

At the top of each file, after you've finished working on it, enter this before the text begins:

1.03 08.01.13 Accepted Trevor's edits and rearranged some grafs

Just leave the previous notes in place and add yours under them.

If everyone on a project does this, the files will line up on everyone's hard drive or in some central repository chronologically. Some people like to put dates in file names, and that's okay, but they have to be written identically every time and appear in the same place, so that the files line up. My system lines things up chronologically and refers to dates in the file itself.

All of the "Our Book Chapter One" verbiage is helpful if the file gets isolated from the others. This explains what it is. I guarantee that in six months nobody will know what "Chapter Three" is without "Our Book."

Here's a good article about all this in PC Magazine, although I would quibble with it. The writer's file names look like code, and people forget what codes mean, even the coder. For example, she uses "bg" to stand for blog. I guarantee you that if I did that I wouldn't remember what that means in six months. Neither will anyone else. So just use natural language.

Please use the tracking function so that the next person can see what you did. You don't have to change the file name when you edit and mark it up. You do need to change the file name when the edits are accepted.

If you're paying a writer, delegate version control authority to him and tell him to come up with a file naming protocol that will be clear to the company gardener. If you're the writer ask for that authority, but don't hold your breath.

If you're working with a committee it helps to establish a pecking order so that each version flows to each person in the same sequence. That means the last person is the boss. Working with a committee is enlightening. Another fun thing to do is adopt six kittens at the pound and train them to do synchronized swimming.

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