RE: When document writing does not have or follow guidelines...

Subject: RE: When document writing does not have or follow guidelines...
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 7 Dec 2001 11:30:27 -0500

Ellen Vanrenen reports that at her startup company: <<... events are moving
at lightning speed... his team had to write a number of important documents
fast... none of these documents contain consistently-used and uniform fonts,
styles, or formatting. For example, fonts differ from document to document
and within documents.>>

That's annoying, but not a disaster unless the documents are going outside
the company to people who may prejudge your company based on the appearance
of its documentation. If that's the case, someone needs to spend a few hours
reformatting for consistency--and it really won't take much more than a few
hours once you know how to use templates. Nobody should "judge a book by its
cover", but unfortunately, so many people do so that you shouldn't consider
visual consistency a trivial matter.

<<There are no naming conventions in place yet, I'm embarrassed to say, and
no formalized directory structure.>>

That's a serious problem, since you may end up at some point sending out the
wrong version of a file to a client or using the wrong data in a budget
or... Someone needs to spend a couple hours developing a structure and
persuading everyone to use it.

<<The second implementation team is being given a SOW, among other

Not a familiar acronym. Are they trying to make a silk purse out of its ear?

<<I am asking all you experienced (and apparently well-paid) professionals
how you would go about managing this situation.>>

Prioritize, and even if it seems like you don't have the time to fix the
obvious problems, find that time and accept delays in other jobs. It's too
late to check your parachute once you've jumped out of the plane, but right
now you're still in the plane, and can afford some time to get your feet
under you and ensure that your equipment's working. Fix the most serious
problems first, even if all you have time to do is patch the problem while
you implement a more permanent fix. For example, use an existing template
for all documents, even if you end up using the user manual template for the
marketing reports. Not perfect, but a very large step in the right direction
and a good patch until you have time to create and use new templates. For
example, create a single set of working network directories for
documentation, and browbeat everyone into using those directories--or better
still, until you can set up a check-in/check-out procedure, centralize all
the documents on your computer (well backed up, of course) so at least
someone has the most recent version of every file and can control who gets
to see it next.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

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