Best Practices is a term widely used across the industry to describe a process that when implemented consistently is known to deliver a positive project outcome. Most organizations use some form of process when developing their technical documentation so that all publications produced under their brand have a consistent look and feel. Problems arise when the process is not followed or the process is flawed.
Treat Each Project Individually:
For project managers, implementing best practices into their technical writing services operation isn’t about fitting every project into a preset mold. Instead, it’s utilizing "tried and true" industry advice to accommodate the needs of the individual project.
The primary goal of a project manager is to make sure that each project is completed on time, keeps within the defined scope, comes in within budget, and exceeds expectations.
Success is achieved through:
- Clearly defined and managed processes
- Skilled and experienced team
Novatek’s Best Practices Model for Technical Writing:
The following writing model provides our technical writers with the building blocks needed to produce professional documentation for our clients and to generate consistent, readable, and usable information that exceeds client expectations.
- When required, always adhere to applicable regulatory, environmental, health, safety, and contractual obligations.
- Internationalize your design and use Unicode fonts whenever writing for translation.
- Write as if your audience is not familiar with your topic.
- Maintain intra-document stylistic consistency where possible.
- Use appropriate words in the proper context.
- Write in clear and concise paragraphs, and use logical transitions.
- Complete ideas and use grammatically correct sentences.
- Use standard words and phrases where possible.
- Always incorporate an editing phase into your work.
5 Steps for Writing Best Practices Documentation
- Analyze. Determine who your audience is and establish the purpose of the document. Identify what the reader needs to be able to do upon completion of the document. Take into account the reader’s level of technical knowledge. Establish the timeframe for completion.
- Design. Based on the audience analysis, determine the level of detail required and the complexity of the project. Define the scope of the project. Will you be creating a new document or revising an existing one? What will be included? What will be left out? Will new supporting graphics be required? What about the need to revise existing graphics? Can the project be completed in the timeframe specified by one writer or will a team of writers be needed?
- Develop. Organize the content to support the objective and the audience. To make sure all essential information is covered, develop an outline that lists the required topics, key points for each topic, and the information required to support these points. Make sure the content flows in a logical order. Include supporting information and larger tables in an appendix, and include an index for longer or complex documents.
- Produce. Determine who will produce the document. Can your in-house staff handle the timeframe constraints? Will you need to outsource your technical writing services? Use the outline developed in Step 3 to estimate the time required to gather the source material, write, create or revise graphics, edit, and publish the document, as well as to flag potential problems. For complex documents with multiple subject matter experts, identify who has the responsibility for each content area. If a team of technical writers will be producing the document, identify the project lead and define the responsibilities for each team member.
- Maintain. An organization needs to maintain consistency in the look and feel of everything that carries its brand. Remember to schedule time for an editorial review and production. The editor serves as a reader’s advocate ensuring consistent use of language, terminology, formatting, and flow. In all cases, test the final document against the original purpose and the requirements of the identified audience.
The process of developing a complex document is a project management task that requires having clear expectations, commitments, and ongoing communication with the team members. Planning ahead for each step in the documentation process is important to the overall success of the project. Always do a post mortem review of every project. Evaluate the team dynamics and how tasks were implemented. Identify what went right and what went wrong. Use what you learn as a basis for continuous improvement.
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