The importance of a single source of truth in scientific writing

Raquel Pinto
Apr 1 · 4 min read

“The truth will set you free”, it is said. And there can and should be only one truth. This is especially so for document collaboration: a single source of truth means that a document used by multiple collaborators exists in a single location in the cloud, which is instantly accessible for everyone involved. Nobody downloads copies of it, it is just one document, with all track changes and comments always up to date, that everybody works on.

Now, why will this single source of truth set you free?

Let’s bring it to a very common scenario you probably have experienced working in scientific writing: editing and reviewing a document with your teammates.

Joe, Mary, and Elizabeth are scientific writers working on a new manuscript:

  1. Joe creates a document on his laptop, where he starts editing content, adding some tables and citations until he feels that it’s a draft ready for a review round.
  2. Joe sends an email to Elizabeth and Mary asking them to review the document, that goes attached.
  3. Elizabeth and Mary download the document to their respective laptops, add comments and some edits.
  4. When they feel they are done with the review, each of them sends an email back to the group with their new version of the document.

This process keeps going until the document is finalized. Let’s see what is wrong with this picture:

  • At the end of every review process, there are 4 versions of the document floating around:

- One in Joe’s laptop;

- One in the email server (the one that Joe sent);

- One on Elizabeth’s laptop after she downloads it;

- One on Mary’s laptop after she downloads it;

  • Elizabeth and Mary are not seeing each other’s edits and comments, which means they will very likely edit or comment on similar things, wasting time;
  • Joe does not know anything about Elizabeth and Mary’s progress until they send their email back, which means that he cannot help them or know how long it will take them to finish their review.

Are you tired already? I have at least another 6 reasons for qualifying this process as a catastrophic failure. Let me know in the comments below if you want the comprehensive list.

Are we ready now for a single source of truth?

If you are still wondering, the answer is “Yes, a single source of truth eliminates the previous list of problems once and forever”. Everybody working on the same document means that everyone can see each other’s edits and comments, build on top of each other’s knowledge, ask for help, never download a copy of the document, and never send an email to share information.

Does it sound too good to be true? Well, there are even more advantages:

  • The knowledge is constructed in a dialog based on always up-to-date facts;
  • Storage is exponentially more efficient;
  • Versioning becomes unified and unambiguous;
  • If anybody leaves the team, their permissions are removed and confidential information remains safe;
  • The content is not device-dependent, which means that a Chromebook, a PC, and a Mac will generate exactly the same formatting;
  • With proper security in place, all information is encrypted, making sniffing virtually impossible.

I can also keep going with this list too, so let me know in the comments if you want to hear the rest of it.

Where can you get a single source of truth?

Maybe you are already thinking of solutions that enable users to collaborate on a single source of truth, like MS Word Online™ and Google Docs™. Are they enough though?

Our experience with the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world tells us that they fall extremely short when it comes to enabling collaboration on real enterprise documents, where the complexity of the contents, the length of the documents, or the size of the teams collaborating make them fail miserably.

doDOC is a document collaboration software that has focused exactly on this problem: building a single source of truth for collaborating with enterprise-grade documents. Besides all the advantages mentioned before, doDOC goes several steps further towards what can be done with the information in a single source of truth:

  • Every single action is been tracked and recorded, which provides a comprehensive audit trail for every single document and person;
  • With all these actions saved, it is possible to go back to any point in time during the document life cycle;
  • Even more, these actions can be aggregated in the form of reports, which opens a universe of possibilities for improving workflows, planning resources, and becoming more accurate when negotiating deadlines;
  • Information is semi-structured, which enables easy reuse of it in other documents, keeping libraries of documents consistent.

No need to say that this list is long too, uh? Waiting for your comments to share more.

Truth to be told, a single source of truth is truly the only way to free you from the untruthful trouble of the collaboration process. That is what doDOC is. This is the truth, now you know it.

_____

This article was originally published on November 23, 2020, at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/importance-single-source-truth-scientific-writing-leif-masvar/

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