Tracking technical writing deliverables

Kauri Forest, New ZealandImagine you’ve accepted a technical writer position in a company that creates enterprise software. You’re used to working with a team of writers, maybe even a documentation manager and editor.

Now it’s just you. Project manager, writer, and editor. And 50 documents to keep up to date. How will you manage?

The nature of enterprise applications, is that they address the needs of organizations, managing resources, customer relationships, automated invoicing and billing, and business intelligence, to name a few. Large applications = lots of documentation. If you’re a sole technical writer handling this many deliverables, you must be organized and focused. Here’s five tips to get you started.

1. Create a list.

Compile a list of all the documents you’re responsible for, including release notes, setup guides, reference guides, templates, web pages, and proposals.

2. Sort the list according to priorities.

Talk to your department manager. Depending on the number of patches and releases during the year, you might not have time to keep all these documents current, so it’s important to know which ones are critical. Next, find out which documents are used most often. Those are the ones you want to make a priority.

3. Keep your list in a spreadsheet.

List all your documents in the left column. Then create columns for each release. That way you can check off each document as you complete it for a patch. This keeps you focused. You know at all times where you’re up to, so if you get pulled away to another project, when you come back, you can pick up where you left off. An added bonus, is that if your manager asks about the status of a particular document, you can quickly refer to your spreadsheet.

4. Keep some perspective.

Take satisfaction in what you have accomplished, rather than focusing on how much is still left to do. It’s like a marathon. Sometimes it’s better not to look at the entirety – that can be overwhelming – but to look at the next thing on your list. Set yourself a goal for finishing that one document, then move onto the next one.

5. Use the Pomodoro Technique.

Set your timer and give yourself permission to work on one thing at a time. Working on several documents at once can lead to confusion and disorganization. Work on one document, complete it, and check it off your list.

Do you write documentation for an enterprise application? How do you manage all those deliverables?

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Photo via Flickr user Heike Quosdorf

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