Good technical documentation doesn’t just happen. Producing professional content that's both technically accurate and user-friendly is a highly specific skill. While many companies have subject matter experts (SMEs) in-house, they may not have a professional writer on staff who can translate complicated product knowledge into content that's easily understood by the end-user.
If your company decides to tackle documentation on your own, here are six important steps to take in the process:
- Planning. Know the purpose and scope of the project before you begin. This may seem obvious, but spending time up front can reduce the actual writing time as well as head off costly, significant changes during the project. Be sure to identify goals, existing resources (internal, contract or outsourcing), style guides, deadlines, costs, and final deliverables.
- Drafting. Start with a high-level outline on all topics to be covered. Then, begin gathering the specific content and supporting graphics, making sure to leave placeholders for any information gaps. When drafting procedures, do a self-review to make sure you can perform each procedure as you’ve written it. Above all, keep the user in mind. They must be able to easily understand and navigate through the content.
- Reviewing. Typically, SME formal reviews take place upon completion of a first draft and a final draft. Depending on the type of content you’re developing, however, you may want the SME to check individual sections or topics. Where new product information may still be in flux, leave time for more reviews.
- Revising. Now that your first draft is ready, set up a peer review to test the accuracy. Again, make sure the content is presented in a way that makes sense for your audience.
- Editing. Turn the document over to the technical editor, who makes sure the language has a logical flow and the content is complete and consistent. Having a second set of eyes on the content can increase both the credibility and professionalism of the entire piece.
- Publishing/Maintaining. Once a document is signed-off by its reviewers, it’s ready for publishing. At this point, the document falls into maintenance status. Documentation must be reviewed on a regular basis and brought up to date to provide the most complete and accurate information to the users. For regulated companies, proper maintenance is critical to avoid warning letters from the FDA.