The case for cheat sheets


By Sandra Barker, Editorial Supervisor

Remember those cheat sheets you might have used in college as study tools? Or the ones your professor allowed you to use for exams (think any subject requiring complex mathematical formulas that were all but impossible to memorize)?

The professor in my financial management course in business school granted us this favor for the final exam. Those of us in the marketing track were relieved to be allowed to use this study aid, and I figured that if I packed my cheat sheet with every type of finance problem I could possibly encounter—we were allowed to use both sides of an 8 ½ x 11 paper—I would be on my way to a sure A.

I felt proud of my cheat sheet, especially after the professor showed it to the whole class and called it the best use he’d ever seen of the real estate we were given. Well, the exam was quite difficult, and I found myself spending more time nervously searching my cheat sheet for the problem that most closely resembled the problem on the exam than simply trying to solve the problem on my own. In the end, I got a B—not horrible, but I realized that my overly detailed cheat sheet was not an asset to my exam performance.

Fast forward to my role heading up the Editorial Department at CultHealth. I have learned from my grad school experience that a cheat sheet can still be a valuable tool, but only when it is short and succinct and the content is not overly complicated.

Since joining CultHealth as a manager almost 2 years ago, I have created numerous cheat sheets—mostly 1-pagers—that I use when giving process training presentations to agency staff, new hires, and freelancers. The cheat sheets detail such functions as what type of editorial read is needed at a particular stage of the cycle, and best practices for annotating and fact-checking. Colleagues can later refer to these cheat sheets as reminders of our editorial efficiencies. I have learned the importance of reviewing and updating these cheat sheets as our business continually evolves.

Even with this tremendous tool at our disposal, I always stress the importance of really learning and understanding our editorial process at Cult so teams can operate seamlessly.

The agency views the Editorial Department as a critical step—a “finishing school,” if you will—in ensuring that the client work we produce is not only compelling but error-free and factually accurate as we partner with Account and Creative. And cheat sheets aid us all in that shared goal.

How have you used cheat sheets in your job or management role?