Don’t Let the Document “Get Away” from You

Posted on: February 24, 2009

There are two essentials that undergird successful documents: A competent grasp of the subject and planning. In writing, planning is the key to a solid conceptual design of the document.

To plan a document well, you must communicate with your colleagues. After all, you are working in a business environment, and the document is intended to enhance the business in some way. The upshot, therefore, is that your work takes place within a system (the company and its market) and must meet certain requirements.

Given that situation, recognize that your job as a writer at this stage of the project boils down to the fact that you must reconcile expectations: you and your colleagues will likely have different perspectives on the document, and those must be resolved. You need buy-in from all interested parties to move the project forward and meet company goals. The way to do that is to reconcile expectations. But what does that actually mean in practical, get-down-to-business terms?

Planning means that you, your colleagues and key decision-makers must define the premises and requirements that will govern the document. Planning sets up the operating conditions of the project. These must be mutually understood and accepted.

Don’t let the document “get away” from you at this point! Control the project from the outset by getting answers to the following questions from all those who are part of the project. The goal is to reach agreement.

  • What is the objective of this document?
  • What do you feel is the most important part (or point) of the document?
  • Who is the audience? How will they use the document?
  • Describe, in four or five adjectives, what  you want the document to accomplish.
  • Who will serve as my subject-matter experts?
  • What is the general timeframe (deadline)?
  • Is there any artwork? If so, what type? Quantity? How is it to be created?
  • Who has to approve the document?
  • How many reviewers are there? Who are they?
  • How many revision cycles are there?
  • Are there any length limitations?
  • Do you want a table of contents, list of figures, list of tables, an index? (These depend on the type of document and its length.)
  • Are there any other requirements?

The answers to these and similar questions will affect how you logically organize and write the document. And, because all concerned parties will have agreed on the answers, you will be able to feel confident in your approach to the project.

If you plan your document,  you will establish guidelines for all subsequent stages in the writing process.


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