Tips to improve document development

Yesterday I published Nothing can eclipse a good writer. About a year ago I posted Demystification of the writing process. The two articles together make me think there's more to say about writing as a craft, and as a business. We have lot of how-to help for authors who want to write and publish fiction, less in that genre for writers who work for businesses, and who write as a business.

Here are a few tips that grow out of the first two articles:

Think about what you want to write as you plan it. That seems self-evident, doesn't it? Frame your thinking with two questions: 1) Who will read it? 2) Why will they read it? Why they read it should answer a third question: What is your purpose?

Do adequate research. You do not need to know everything about a subject to write about it. You only need to know enough to meet the requirements inherent in your purpose. Moreover, if you know your audience, the information they need and why they need it, you can identify what you need to know as a writer. Once you get started, questions about items to be learned become clearer.

Organize your material. Your table of contents contains a list of top-level headings to summarize major pieces of your publication. You may think it exists to help your readers, but your readers will enter keywords in a search field to find what they need. During document development, the table of contents exists for you, and for the whole development team. Use it as your outline, to be changed as necessary.

Beyond organization, I'll skip over other elements of the drafting process right now. Writing, revising, and editing are subjects apart. We can talk about those areas in other posts.

Solicit feedback early and often. Writers often don't like to submit work for review prematurely. They think it reflects poorly on their own skills if the work is too unfinished. That's why good working relationships with reviewers are critical. The reviewer knows the purpose of the review, where the document stands in the development process, and relevant business requirements. Questions about skills just don't arise in that context.

Avoid the crunch time mentality. It means unnecessary stress for everyone, it may introduce errors, and it serves no good purpose. Things come together. The team knows what needs to be done. A well planned document needs to come out on time, but it does not need the crunch time treatment. A reasonable publication schedule introduces the document to the world smoothly and happily.

Lastly, be ready to review, revise and correct after publication. That is the super-advantage of digital publication. With print publications, errors and deficiencies may stand forever, because you can never withdraw that bound paper document. With digital publication, errors and deficiencies disappear in a poof when you click Publish for the document's next version. Develop a flexible publication process that allows for continuous correction.

I've kept these tips general, to make them apply in as many environments as possible. Companies, industries, domain knowledge within those industries, technologies and associated engineering requirements all affect the way writers develop their documents. Nevertheless, basic principles appear to hold. You can improve document quality, and speed of production, if you integrate these general principles into your document development process.

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Steven Greffenius founded Puzzle Mountain Digital, to help companies and individuals produce documents that meet their business objectives.