Re: Setting up a tech writing department

Subject: Re: Setting up a tech writing department
From: David Neeley <dbneeley -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 2 Jul 2002 09:29:59 -0700 (PDT)


In my opinion, over the next few years more companies
will be considering the move to some kind of content
management system--even though the conversion process
can be extremely expensive.

Therefore, I would urge you to explore the possibility
of starting with structured documents in an XML
format. Each month, it seems more tools are being
updated to be able to produce XML--and this trend is
not likely to abate any time soon!

In my opinion, a new department starting with XML
documentation might be well advised to have most
writers work with a relatively simple XML editor--then
having one or two people format the documents for
publication. This would have the salubrious effect of
having most writers concentrate upon content, with the
final docs having an extremely uniform look.

I, for one, am very tired of working in departments
that have little attention paid to proper
templates--and the templates they do have being
overridden so often as to create a difficult-to-update

In short, I'd use the creation of a new department as
an ideal chance to implement a forward-looking
document base that would feature ease of re-use, ease
of updating, and ease of implementation of a content
management system if and when that appears

Once the decision is made as to what the department's
responsibilities will be and what budget it has,
staffing will be a more straight-forward process.

Next, I would suggest that whether you go the
structured-doc route or not, you should have at least
one "guru" with the tools you choose who would be
responsible for creating and updating templates,
editing the output, and serving as a mentor for the
newer tech writers.

All too often, it seems that the editing function is
left to a person who is not a fully qualified tech
writer. In my opinion, that is a rather backwards
approach. Having a very senior tech writer as editor
also quickly highlights those writers who need
additional training, and gives an informal means of
giving them this instruction.

I would also build a process for project management,
keeping track of all deliverables throughout the
creation and publication process. Beginning with such
a process is easy, while implementing a process in
midstream is often more problematical.

Finally, I would think of creating an Intranet Web
site for the department, making draft documentation
available to all people in the organization who have
an interest. I simply believe that you cannot have too
many knowledgeable eyeballs looking at documents prior
to their release!

Best of luck with the new department--and feel free to
contact me as you begin to staff it! (Sorry, but as
another victim of the layoff epidemic, I had to add
it!) 8:)


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