Developing the Specification for a Document

Between 25-30 percent of the overall writing time is typically devoted to developing the document specification, meaning how the document will be formatted and actually present the information. This is true even when the organization has a style guide with a prescribed format, but no “standard” for documentation overall. Although this may seem an inordinate amount of time and effort on the front end, before getting any information onto the paper, it is far more cost-effective than spending unplanned time rewriting and reformatting the document late in the production process. Developing and implementing a documentation standard essentially eliminates this pre-writing step, but requires decisions in three key areas:

  • Conceptual

    • What are the documentation tasks?
    • What is the purpose of the document?
    • What/Who is the audience?
    • How should the documentation be organized?
    • How must it appear to the readers?
  • Layout and Format (physical)
    • The appropriate form for the documentation types.
    • What page layout will be appropriate?
    • Appropriate strategy for efficient/effective update?
  • Schedule and Milestones
    • What are the specific phases for development?
    • What are the milestones?
    • What are the times required for each phases?
    • When must the document be delivered?

The Document Specification is the plan for an individual document, and goes far beyond the traditional outline in both function and role. Ultimately, it becomes a detailed plan encompassing the life cycle of the document. Four steps are identified below.

Step 1: Document Design

The first step in developing the document specification is defining the mechanics and understanding the requirements to be satisfied. This step includes consideration of:

  • Document layout (format) and design,
  • Purpose,
  • Audience,
  • Priority and schedule, and
  • Updating and revision.

Step 2: Document Objectives

  • Audience and users,
  • Purpose and role

Step 3: Content and Input Requirements

The second step defines the organization and content of the finished document, and the subject matter experts who will provide technical information and input. This is the point where the tradition outlines are developed.

  • Develop outline and content requirements
  • Identify developers and or subject matter experts for input

Step 4: Pre-Draft Stage

This step is a “proof” of the proposed format of the document, various parts and features, and preliminary representation of the graphics. Generally, in lieu of a standard, management review will be required.

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