Take the Pain Out of Your Academic Catalog System — Tips for Success

March 20, 2017

Last updated: January 25, 2022

The academic catalog can be one of the most dreaded projects at many higher-ed institutions. It often seems like a never-ending project, with the next year's catalog starting as soon as the previous year's is published, and getting edits to content can involve digging through piles of hand edits and digging through tracked changes on Word documents.

The catalog is a large, important project — your accreditation, enrollment, and student success all depend on it to a certain extent — and it's never going to be small. That said, there are a few things you can do to make it more manageable.

1. Go Digital (Even If You're Going to Print Your Catalog)

We're obviously big proponents of digital catalog solutions, and for good reason. At the very least, having a good digital system — like Clean Catalog! — for managing your catalog's content can ensure that all your catalog content and edits are done in the same place, instead of scattered across a variety of scribbled hand edits and Word documents scattered around campus.

With most digital catalog solutions (ours included), you'll also get revision history that allows you to see who changed what content when, which you can revert as needed. You can also see a status overview of what content has been published, what content hasn't been touched, and what needs to be reviewed — it can be a built-in project management system for your catalog.

Even if you're ultimately going to print your catalog, having a digital system to manage all your catalog can still make the development process immensely easier, and then you can easily export it and prepare it for print once all the actual content is completed.

2. Have a Schedule (But Know that It Will Largely Be Disregarded)

At many colleges, the official catalog development schedule is a masterpiece of fake deadlines and trickery. The "deadline" for academic divisions to have completed curriculum changes is actually three weeks before the real deadline, and even after that there's a week built in for proofing, and if the content still isn't ready the publication date could be pushed back a week... and so on.

Instead of really trying to enforce deadlines this year, it's often easiest to acknowledge that some areas won't meet the deadlines, and plan accordingly. There are a few things you can do:

  • Make sure that you don't have to re-proof your entire catalog every time changes are made somewhere in the content. For example, if you have all your content laid out in InDesign, and you've proofed all the page numbers and ensured there are no orphans or widows, and then at the last minute you have to insert a new section at page 7, you're going to have to review the whole rest of the document for layout issues. A system like Clean Catalog takes care of this, since edits to each page are isolated and won't mess up the layout on any other pages.

  • Wrap up static content as early as possible; for example, if your financial aid policies for the next year are all set in January, you can run those through the editing and proofing process then and not worry about them later in the year.

  • Encourage departments to turn in pieces of their content instead of waiting until everything is done. For example, sometimes the instruction department might have the entire Accounting program done, but be waiting to see if a course number is 101 or 102 this year. Encourage them to send you what you have, and it can go through the editing and proofing process while you wait for that one tardy course number.

3. Distribute Editing and Review Responsibilities (And Know Who Gets to Edit What)

Want to Learn More About Workflows?

Watch our video on the basics of editorial workflows.

Letting departments edit their own content is obviously a key part of developing your catalog content, but often the communications department (or whichever department manages the catalog) ends up being the only reviewer. It's often faster to ensure that content is reviewed by that department before it ever reaches your desk. For example, in Clean Catalog you can set each page up so that it has an editor or reviewer, and when the editor is done they can submit it to the reviewer and go back and forth as much as they need to before it's ever sent to you. You'll end up with content that's both more accurate and (usually) with fewer grammar and spelling mistakes, making your editing work that much easier.

Along with that, at some colleges, the full copy of the catalog is distributed to all departments that need to edit it, and you can sometimes end up with enthusiastic editors taking their red pen to sections they really shouldn't be editing. This can cause conflicting edits, and then you'll sometimes end up having to figure out what handwriting belongs to which editor and whether that handwriting actually had the authority to edit that section. It might seem simple, but only giving editors content they need to edit can save a few headaches.