The hostess at a restaurant isn’t asked to prepare the food. Nobody expects the sales manager at an auto dealership to repair transmissions or adjust brakes. Yet within enterprises all over the world, engineers, IT professionals, business analysts, administrative managers, supervisors and other employees are routinely tasked with writing policies and procedures, work instructions and many other types of documentation.
These people do their “real” jobs well, but most don’t have a clue about how to create effective documents. So when they’re asked to write, the results are often just what you’d expect them to be—confusing stuff that causes errors, misunderstandings and many other problems. This costs organizations a lot of money.
It would be wonderful if every organization had teams of skilled technical writers available for every writing assignment, but in these downsized times people whose job descriptions don’t include writing are increasingly required to develop documentation. So how do you turn these non-writers into instant experts on creating clear, user-focused content that employees can easily access, understand and use?
You can’t, really. After all, technical writing is a specialized profession that takes considerable training and experience to master. But there are things you can do to make non-writers capable, with some support, of handling the task of writing effective business communications.
Here are 5 essential steps to follow to help them succeed:
- Create a documentation standard. This will be vital. Without a standard, you’ve failed before you begin.
- Train everyone who writes to understand and apply the standard. Give them the skills necessary to support implementation.
- Create templates and model documents, where appropriate. They provide guidance that simplifies the task of writing.
- Engage an expert technical writer to review and edit everyone’s work. If you can find somebody who also has good mentoring skills, so much the better.
- Get users to review the documents. Ask them if they can quickly find and understand the information they need. Modify the documents based on their feedback.
Following these 5 steps will lead to improvements in your documentation, but don’t expect miracles. Writing clear effective content isn’t easy. If you’ve been asking too much of your employees and your documentation keeps causing errors and hurting productivity, in the long run you’ll save time and money by calling in the experts.