"Documentation Process" presentation to engineering

Subject: "Documentation Process" presentation to engineering
From: Krista Van Laan <KVanlaan -at- verisign -dot- com>
To: "'TECHWR-L'" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 18 Nov 1999 15:17:39 -0800

About five weeks ago I posted a request to the list for suggestions on a
I was giving to engineering about the documentation process. Thanks to
who responded -- your suggestions were very helpful.

Now that the presentation has happened, I'm posting to tell you how
it went and what it was about.

We had about an hour to speak. I started by explaining what I
go through to plan a document set from the beginning, from learning about
the user to learning the product to defining content. Since my company is
young and I have recently been developing documentation sets for two product
this was relevant.

Many of the engineers have no idea that anything
has to be done during the production phase -- yesterday, for example, we
delivering a doc set for a CD and they were adding information for two of
manuals less than two hours before the CD was burned. By the time the writer
the last of the manuals, I had 10 minutes to proof it, generate TOC and
turn it into a PDF file, and test it online.

I explained how long it takes to create a document (giving a range of
rates from 3 to 10 hours, depending upon the level of quality in the
and showed how much time we actually have been producing our manuals
in (two hours per page!). And I showed a schedule for a 100-page manual,
absolute fastest times, which still was much longer than any of them ever

After I was done, we had an exercise in procedure writing. We handed out
simple origami animals to everyone. Each person got a cat or a dog and a
of paper and seven minutes to write a procedure. Afterwards, the cat people
their instructions to a dog person and vice-versa, and they had to create
animal based on the instructions from the other person. We had targeted
people beforehand and almost at the end of the writing time, we gave each of
a complicated frog, swan, or pig and told them we'd added a whole bunch of
features and changed the scope so they had to redo everything on the same
deadline. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. The origami worked well because
have good visual abilities, it wasn't messy, and it all took 15 minutes.

Then one of the writers in my group talked about how he writes a single
from interviewing to writing the first draft to review to finished product.

Those of you who asked me in advance for the slides, I'll send them. Thanks
again to everyone who emailed me with advice.


Krista Van Laan VeriSign, Inc.
Documentation Manager 1350 Charleston Road
kvanlaan -at- verisign -dot- com Mountain View, CA 94043
tel: (650) 429-5158 fax: (650) 961-7300

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