Managing Writers: A Real World Guide to Managing Technical Documentation

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Upcoming Events No Events. The number of output formats is growing. The line between technical documentation and other kinds of company-produced information, like marketing white papers, has blurred. More significantly, writers are now receiving content from sources outside the enterprise.

#2 – Confluence Works as You Expect

Content is now coming from a community of contributors instead of from a relatively small number of SMEs. The community often includes customers who might not even understand the community to which they belong and who doubtless wouldn't consider themselves to be part of the product documentation team. They simply responded to a feedback link on the company's web site.

Or they saw a question in a forum and decided to post an answer. Today, a depiction of the process looks like a double funnel: information flows in from a variety of sources, of which the SME is only one of many.

Book Review – Managing Writers by Richard L Hamilton

Simultaneously, the information is distributed in a growing number of output formats, sometimes even reaching the customers through social media outlets like Twitter feeds and Facebook fan pages. The upending of the traditional development process can to a large extent be attributed to two new trends: collaborative, community-based authoring, or Web 2. In Anne Gentle's words, "Web 2. When documentation is published on Web 2. Information may be published in an incomplete or preliminary form, after which it is updated frequently. Documentation reviews are less formal, more frequent, and smaller in scope that is, each review covers less material.

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With the explosion of content sources comes the need for a content strategy , which Kristina Halvorson defines as "recommendations about how to create, deliver, and govern web content" during what she calls the web content lifecycle note 2. Creating content might mean that content originates in the technical writing team as in the past.

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But it can also mean assembling and assimilating content from many sources, both inside and outside the organization. Delivering content means selecting from the wide range of delivery formats that are available. These choices are influenced by the kind of content and the needs of the customer.

Governing content is something we didn't need to consider before. Governing involves several tasks: doing a content inventory to determine what already exists and how much of it is useful; monitoring the community's contributions to ensure that everything meets the organization's standards for style and format; and maintaining the content to ensure that it remains current and useful.

Managing Documentation Projects in a Collaborative World - WritersUA

In fact, Halvorson identifies no less than 15 steps in the content lifecycle three of which are "revise"; note 3. As Halvorson points out, this is many more steps than were in the traditional content development process: design, create, revise, approve. Rahel Bailie adds that content strategy "includes aligning content to business goals, analysis, and modeling, and influences the development, production, presentation, evaluation, measurement, and sunsetting of content, including governance.

The person responsible for doing all of this work is usually referred to as the content strategist.

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I'll describe this emerging role in detail later in this paper. Agile began as a software methodology, but the same principles are gaining acceptance in other industries as well. Agile emphasizes flexibility: rather than long, monolithic product development cycles, Agile projects are developed in short "sprints" with great attention paid to customer requirements and a realization that the requirements can change on short notice.

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As a result, an Agile project is usually characterized by:. While some of Anne's tips are offered tongue-in-cheek, she includes several valuable ones, including these:. For me, the most important piece of advice is the last one.

At every stage of the process-or in Agile terms, at every iteration-my team delivers information that's "done, shippable, and customer-ready. But, conversely, no more emphasis on making sure that every detail is perfect. At the time, he was still writing his book, but he handed me a brochure describing the book title and its contents. I'm glad to see that some months after our conversation, he published it. A few weeks ago, Richard sent me a review copy, so I decided to interview him for a podcast.

In our conversation, we cover the following:. For more information, see Richard Hamilton's book, Managing Writers. You can also read Richard Hamilton's blog.