Manage documentation as a lone writer

Even when you’re the “lone writer” in your organisation, it may be a good idea to manage documentation as if it was a team or a department. You need a little leeway, but you can get a lot of mileage out of it: You can elevate documentation beyond a rushed after-thought in the production process. You can raise your profile, from the guy or gal who writes the help to the user advocate. You can help to turn developed features into marketable user benefits. In short, you can turn documentation into a relevant asset of your company – an asset that’s connected to your face.

In my previous job, I was a lone writer for a while. On JoAnn Hackos’ Center for Information-Development Management, I found the New Manager’s To-Do List. I recommend that you check out this invaluable presentation by Marty Williamson!

I’ve found it so helpful that I’ve condensed it to a single slide which has been hanging over my desk ever since:

Managing Documentation in a Nutshell

Some of these practices come pretty easy: Building trust is a given in many workplaces. In fact, if you don’t, chances are you won’t succeed as a lone writer.

Other practices require dedication and discipline. If there’s little incentive in your company to keep metrics or to profile users, such efforts start out as pet projects. But you’ll see colleagues and managers taking note fairly soon, when you back up suggestions to change documentation or deliverables with such evidence.

Taken together, these practices can remind you of the business sense of being a tech writer among the nitty-gritty of everyday writing, editing and publishing. They can make you a more complete (lone) writer and an asset to your company – present and future!

To learn more about the Information Process Maturity Model, see JoAnn Hackos’ article “Using the Information Process-Maturity Model for Strategic Planning“.

If you have any ideas or questions about advancing documentation as the lone writer, please leave a comment!

– Thanks to Michael and André, my managers who gave me the freedom and support to expand my responsibilities and the value of the documentation.


Grace, class and subtlety in a manual

A really nice review of impressive, if idiosyncratic technical writing is David Carkeet’s “The Muse of Mopar”:

I have fallen in love. I have found grace, class, and subtlety, along with an intuitive appreciation for who I am, in a place where I would never have expected to find it. I am speaking, of course, of The New Dodge Caravan Owner’s Manual…

The article originally appeared in the St. Louis magazine. It was reprinted in “The Vocabula Review” of March 2001, where it’s still available for subscribers. The rest of us can find it here.

Do you know any appreciations, serious or ironic, of user manuals? Please leave a comment if you do!

New blog! Old posts?

Welcome to my new blog, yay! You’ll find my insights and experiences about software documentation here, what I’ve found to work and what didn’t. And some occasional wackiness. 🙂

You’ll find one or two posts per week, so it’ll be low-volume, but regular – and hopefully worth your while. I’m looking forward to your feedback and ideas that you can share in the comments.

Some of the old posts below come from my Content Wrangler ning page which is only available to registered users. Others pick up past activities that I didn’t blog about, but could’ve or should’ve. All posts appear under the original dates.