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I've never had to do the entire project without access. Sometimes I've
had to do what Robert described to get started.
Sometimes the organization is concerned about the technical writer
seeing the live data in the application. If that's the case, you can
suggest giving you access to the test database or the training database.
They should have some database around with scrambled or sanitized data
for those purposes. If so, they can give you access. If not, they have
bigger problems than possibly inaccurate documentation.