Creating Business Documentation Infrastructure

Hello and welcome to our first blog post. In this article, I want to show you how easy it is to implement basic documentation infrastructure. This applies if you’re an employee or a contractor.  Following these steps will give your documentation a more polished and professional look. More importantly, it will enable you to focus more on writing solid content and less on hours of fussy formatting. For the sake of this article, I’ll assume you’re using Microsoft Word® to make this happen.

I use the following five steps when I first walk into a new work place:

1. Document Survey

Gather documents from several areas like Marketing, HR and Operations. Look at how the documents are set up. This serves as an informal document survey. Start with looking at what font each department uses. Hopefully they’ve standardized on a font. If they haven’t then, then this needs to be the first step in your list of recommendations. If they’re using Arial in their marketing documentation, then this is likely the font you should be using in all your deliverables to ensure that the documents you put out are aligned with other company publications. Is there a hierarchy of headlines? What’s underlined and what isn’t. How do they treat images? Do they have a glossary or appendix? Look at the styles are currently being used. How do they handle bulleted points? Are there any surprising discoveries? Make detailed notes on what you find. You’ll need them later.

2. Style Guide

Does the marketing department have a style guide? Chances are good they do. Get a copy and study it carefully. Look at the styles and how they’re used. Look at the logo rules and conventions. Are there special words that need to be used or never used? Makes notes of all of this. You’ll need to use it when you create your style guide. Be careful about making your style guide too large. If you make it hard to find the information, then people are going to avoid using it. Resist the urge to split up your style materials into separate documents, like a formatting guide, style guide and style sheet. This wastes needless time as you have to sort through multiple documents to find what you’re looking for. In a future blog posting, I will go into elaborate on what you need to build a workable style guide.

3. Creating a Template

Before creating any templates, ask yourself the following questions. What documents do you need to create? Who are you creating them for? What role will they serve? Talk with your SME and stakeholders to get an idea what needs to be created. Create some draft templates. Bring a couple of different approaches with you to get approval from the stakeholder. Add your styles to each Word template, once you have approval.

4. Adding Styles to Each Word Template

Once you have settled on your specific styles, then you need to add them to Microsoft Word.  The actual steps of creating the styles are beyond the scope of this article, but Google the topic for more information. When creating styles, give them intuitive names, like Heading 1 FG for Heading 1 Facilitator Guide. Using styles will save you time and ensure your documentation has a consistent look and feel . Once you’ve created this, meet with your client to show them what you’ve done and how it will save them time.

5. Create a Master Glossary/Common Vocabulary

With most clients, you’ll see cases where for example they’ll  use “client” in one section and “customer” in another. Failure to create a common vocabulary causes confusion whereas when everyone is speaking from a common vocabulary, you’ll experience improved communication and productivity. Flag words and phrases you discover in the course of reviewing documents. Put them in a Word document and meet with your client to gain clarity on what words are being used and what the correct definitions are. Once those definitions are arrived at, log them in a formal master glossary. Make this glossary available to all content creators. Confusion is greatly reduced when everyone is speaking the same language. See Abby Covert’s brilliant book How to Make Sense of Any Mess for more on common vocabularies.