One of the difficulties in starting a large writing project is knowing where to start.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
Which document should you start first? How long will it take to write each guide, brochure, or form?
And then there are side issues, such as style guides, naming conventions, and other writing tasks. Where do you start?
Here’s a suggested approach that might help.
First, get firm agreement with your line manager (or project sponsor) regarding what they’re expecting.
This includes the exact list of documents, delivery type (print, PDF, online), and final dates.
This protects you from ‘assumptions’ people may have later in the process.
“Well I imagined it would be like this etc…”
You can mitigate against this by showing them sample documents and asking what they like/don’t like in the samples.
Record their feedback and factor this into your plans.
Define the Scope of Work
Next, what needs to be documented?
Create a master list in your documentation plan excel file of what needs to be documented.
This includes the exact list of documents, including minor documents, such as release notes.
Use this to define the amount of effort involved.
Get Approval and Signoff
Share the documentation plan with the stakeholder.
Ask if you’ve overlooked anything.
Phrase your emails to demonstrate that you’re in control, understand the bigger picture, and are more than a ‘writer’ — that you’re planning, communicating, and offering advice as well.
A lot of this is about anticipating objects, resistance, or other concerns.
Once you’ve identified this, work backwards.
- Address each one, clarify anything that you’re (and possibly they) are unclear about.
- Don’t wait until the project has started.
- Agree expectations before the project starts. This ensures you don’t get ambushed later on. Make sure there are no assumptions. Get everything clarified, then start.
Create a Documentation Plan
To coordinate the different documents, create a documentation plan. Essentially, this is a project plan for documents.
- Create a documentation plan, version control it, and create your first draft.
- In your documentation plan excel file, add a Priority column.
- Assign High, Medium, and Low to each document.
- Assign a writer and reviewer(s) to each document.
- Enter a start and end date. These may change but at least get them scheduled.
- Add keywords for product line, feature, or other item. Use this to filter the overall document set later on.
Documentation Plan Template (MS Word/Excel WBS)
Your Documentation Plan template describes how your technical documents will be prepared, delivered and distributed. This is also known as an Information Development (ID) Plan. Essentially, it serves as a project plan for the documentation requirements on a software project.
Use this template to:
- Identify the content, format, page count, size etc for each document in your next publication cycle
- Prepare cost estimates for project duration and schedule resources to meet the documentation requirements
- Have greater control over your budget and ensure that risks and issues are addressed before starting the writing phase
- Identify the necessary tools/licenses/PC configuration and ensure documents are scoped correctly with the appropriate level of detail
Plan your writing tasks
Using the documentation plan as your frame of reference:
- Work on the most important documents first. Others can wait.
- When you get the draft ready, send it out for review. Track this.
- While this is under review, start the new high priority document.
- Follow the same process for the rest of the documents.
- Update the spreadsheet as you go along.
- Send weekly reminders to all stakeholders. This includes reviewers, SMEs, and project sponsors.
Plan your writing.
See each document as a deliverable.
By creating a simple documentation plan, you can see at a glance what needs to be done, and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
But it takes time. Get into the habit and start planning your documents.