One of my passions is great documentation. I take pride in my work on this front!
A lot of people simply hate the idea of having to write anything let alone an entire document. For me it is a place of calm, where I can structure my chaotic thoughts into a smooth and understandable picture regarding a particular topic.
As a reader, the first thing that strikes me when I look at any document is how it makes me feel. Corny maybe but this is the initial impression your work gives and provides the reader with a sense of comfort or discomfort around its content! Much like a first date, you would be less likely to accept a second if he/she arrived looking like they had spent little or no effort to look the part on meeting you!
So what is it that makes document great? Check out a few tips below:
1) Firstly, does it look good?
As I eluded to earlier, your document is a representation of both your personal and company brand. Is it neat, well-structured and formatted OR sloppy, unstructured and all over the place. Try to avoid the following at all costs:
- Use of multiple fonts and font sizes;
- Unprofessional fonts;
- Misaligned paragraphs;
- Incorrectly numbered headings or items;
- Different table styles;
- Use of multiple colors. Use of color is great but stick to the color that resonates with your brand or logo.
2) Is your use of language and the way you communicate good enough?
Nobody wants to read a 300-page document and often we can oversize a document by religiously following certain methodologies. Methodologies are great and each have their place but if you can say what you need with one diagram, for example, just do one. Likewise, keep your sentences as short as possible and stick to the point.
Double check your document for the following:
- Bad grammar and incomplete thoughts or sentences (it happens more than you think!)
- Spelling! There is spell check for a reason 🙂
- Is there a better, more simplistic way to say or demonstrate the same thing?
- Are there gaps in your logic?
3) Does the information provided in your document have a natural flow?
It is highly likely that the person reading your masterpiece may not have any background into your industry, department, product or solution. This makes it important to provide detail in layers, starting with very high level to give context and then slowly breaking it down into more and more detail.
4) Watch out for common template mistakes!
Whilst I am an advocate of using a good template where you can (it gives the writer the upper hand regarding content) watch out for the following:
- If you are using a document that was initially for another client / service make sure that you remove EVERY instance of the previous naming. Failing to do so gives the reader the impression that you didn’t really have them in mind and this is a slap dash “copy paste” rendition.
- Don’t just stick to the standard headings. Change them, add to them, they are unique – just like you and what you are communicating;
- Be sure to update those pesky headers and footers.
Lastly, get someone you trust to proof read your document. A fresh pair of eyes can provide very useful insights.