Document approval workflow: 7 steps to boost efficiency

document approval workflow

The humble document has come a long way in the last 50 years. Since the launch of the first word processor for personal computers in 1976, digital documents have become a staple of office life.

Job descriptions.

Company contracts.

Even this article. 

Almost everything in the modern workplace starts as a document. And a collaborative document management system like Google Docs and Microsoft Word make them easier than ever to create. But creating internal and external documents is only half the battle.

What is a document approval workflow?

A document approval process is a series of steps your document needs to go through before it can be used or published. Each step in document approval processes is usually made up of one or more stakeholders who need to review the content to give feedback on its accuracy, tone, or other criteria.

Here is an example of a document approval workflow for a company whitepaper:

  • Brand – the brand manager reviews the content and offers feedback on the writing style and tone of voice
  • Product – three product managers review the parts of the whitepaper that relate to their area of expertise
  • Compliance – two legal specialists check that the content is legally sound and won’t get the company into any trouble

7 steps to help you create an effective document approval workflow

Let’s take a look at seven best practices for your document approval workflows and how document approval software can help:

  1. Define who’s involved in your document approval workflow upfront
  2. Set due dates to avoid delays in your document approval process
  3. Collect feedback from all your reviewers in one place
  4. Tick off comments to make your document review and approval process more effective
  5. Keep versions organized so everyone knows which one is the latest
  6. Compare versions side by side to check everyone’s feedback has been met
  7. Track stakeholder sign-off through your document approval process

Supercharge your document reviews

Share content, get feedback, and manage approvals with Filestage.

1. Define who’s involved in your document approval workflow upfront

There’s nothing worse than accidentally leaving important stakeholders out of your document approval workflows. This can cause frustrating delays in your review process and may even lead to costly mistakes being published – landing your team or company in hot water.

So, always, always, always take the time to define who needs to review and approve your document. Then you can group them into review steps to keep your document approval process organized.

Here’s an example of three review steps for a product brochure, including the reviewers who would need to be involved:

  • Creative – creative director, head of copy, proofreader
  • Marketing – marketing manager, marketing analyst, brand strategist
  • Product and legal – product manager, legal specialist

You can set all this up in Filestage in minutes. Then, when you upload your document and any new file versions, your reviewers will be kept up to date automatically.

Documents Three review steps

2. Set due dates to avoid delays in your document approval process

Every project has a deadline – and often, they’re set in stone. It doesn’t matter if it took two weeks of chasing your boss to get feedback on the first version. The deadline cannot and will not be moved.





Here’s the solution: set deadlines for feedback too. With Filestage, you can set due dates for each review step to let your stakeholders know when you need feedback. And with little status indicators in your dashboard to show who still needs to review or approve your document, it’s easy to keep them accountable.

But here’s the best bit. As the due date creeps closer, your reviewers will get automated reminders by email – or in a Slack or Microsoft Teams channel of your choice. So instead of wrestling your documents across the finish line, you can move onto something else while the feedback comes to you.

Set due dates for documents

3. Collect feedback from all your reviewers in one place

This is one of the biggest problems people face in the document review and approval process: collecting feedback.

It can all start with one email, the simplest approval request sent to a handful of people. Then, suddenly you’re dealing with:

  • Two private replies with a bunch of conflicting comments
  • Another email full of feedback, this time to everyone
  • A few comments added directly to your document
  • A Slack message with a Loom video attached
  • Another Slack message, this one with a new version of your document that someone has taken it upon themselves to create

And suddenly you’re wondering if anyone would notice if you threw your laptop across the room, smashed it into a million pieces, and walked out.

Instead, you need a document approval workflow that makes transparent feedback the only option for your stakeholders. With a document approval system like Filestage, your reviewers can add comments, annotations, and highlights right alongside your document. And everyone in the review step will be able to see their feedback and discuss it in context.

So instead of wasting time consolidating comments and resolving conflicts, everyone’s on the same page from the start.

See our full roundup of the best markup software.

Collect feedback from all your reviewers on documents

4. Tick off comments to make your document review and approval process more effective

Now that you’ve got everyone’s feedback in one place, it’s time to start working on the next version.

If you’ve ever collected feedback in a document management system Google Doc or Microsoft Word file, you’ll know that you can resolve comments as you go. But you’ll also know that, once a comment is marked as resolved, it’s pretty difficult to find again.

This can be a problem for two important reasons:

  • You have no clear record of which changes you’ve made and why
  • Your reviewers can’t check that you’ve met their feedback because their comments have disappeared

With a document approval system like Filestage, the comment sidebar doubles as a to-do list. So when you tick off comments, they’re gone but not forgotten. Instead, you have the option to show and hide resolved comments at any time, making it easy for you and your reviewers to verify feedback and edits.

Tick off comments to make your document review more effective

5. Keep versions organized so everyone knows which one is the latest

This is where Google Docs and Microsoft Word really fall down.

When it comes to live collaboration with teammates or clients, they’re brilliant. You can all jump into the same document, make edits, and discuss ideas in real time.

But these benefits bring a whole new problem: document version control.

Here’s why:

  • Your document is constantly evolving with every edit or resolved comment
  • There’s no way to draw a line between one version and the next
  • Anyone can duplicate your document and make edits directly
  • People waste time giving feedback on the wrong version

“Before using Filestage, we had issues with version control and not having feedback all in the same place. We would end up with multiple PDFs with different feedback and no consolidation or agreement between them. Filestage makes things easy. All the files and versions are in the same place.”

Sarah Chen, Medical Director at Publicis Health

In Filestage, all the versions of your document are neatly stacked in your Filestage dashboard. This makes it easy to jump back to previous versions (and feedback) in seconds. And if someone opens an old version to add feedback by mistake, they’ll see an alert making it clear that it’s out of date.

Keep document versions organized

6. Compare versions side by side to check everyone’s feedback has been met

Imagine that you’ve just been sent the third version of a document to review. It’s a new legal policy, very wordy, but it’s important.

It’s been two weeks since you shared feedback on the previous version. You don’t want to read the new version top to bottom (all 18 pages), but you have no idea what to look out for.

So what do you do? Maybe you spend five or ten minutes searching through your inbox. No luck. Then you try Teams. Eventually, you find it – in Trello of all places. But all your comments have vanished.

Maybe you have a click around in Google Docs and find the comment history button. A long list of comments appears down the right-hand side, including lots from you. But you have no idea what you were going on about – and you can’t see the previous version for context.

It’s clunky.

It’s frustrating.

And it’s a massive waste of time.

Here’s how Filestage makes life easier for you and your reviewers:

  • Compare two versions side by side, including the comments, making it easy to verify the new version against your previous feedback.
  • Click on any comment to jump to that part of the document, so you can review the new version faster.
  • Choose which versions and comments you want to compare, even if it’s v1 and v7 – just to see how far you’ve come!
Compare versions

7. Track stakeholder sign-off through your document approval process

Last but not least, you need a way to track approvals through each step of your document approval process.

Here are three ways approval tracking can help you:

  • See which documents are ready to publish and which ones still need work
  • Spot which reviewers are slowing things down by taking too long to give feedback
  • Keep stakeholders accountable for the content they approve

In Filestage, you’ll see a status indicator for each reviewer in your review step. This tells you whether they’ve approved your document, requested changes, or still need to take a look – all at a glance.

And if accountability is a major concern, you can even download reports of your document reviews in case you need to audit them in the future.

Track stakeholders sign-off on documents

What are the stages in the document approval process?

Here are the key stages for creating a document review and approval process in Filestage:

  • Set up your project
  • Create review steps and invite your stakeholders
  • Upload your document and set a due date for feedback
  • Collect feedback from your stakeholders
  • Create and share a new version of your document
  • Repeat until you get approval in each review step

Then you’ll be all set to publish your work with confidence!

How do you create a document approval workflow in a team?

Start by defining the review steps your document needs to go through before your team is happy for it to be used or published. Then decide whether you want to run your document approval workflow in sequence or in parallel.

Here’s the difference:

  • In a sequence – you get feedback and approval from the first review step (e.g. brand and content) and then move on to the next step (e.g. HR)
  • In parallel – you get feedback from multiple groups at once, then apply all the changes at the same time

Once that’s done, you can set up your project and review steps in Filestage and upload your document to get feedback and approval.

Final thoughts

Thanks for taking the time to learn about the best practices for your document approval workflow.

Filestage’s review and approval platform is designed to make the document review and approval process a breeze. And it also supports videos, designs, live websites, and other formats. If you’re interested in giving it a try, you can request a trial here.