Contrasting Process & Procedural Documentation

Technical writing and documentation is an all-encompassing term referring to any explanatory document. This covers a wide range of documents, such as ones that explain how a service functions or how a product should be used. 

Process and procedural documentation are important subsets of technical documentation, but they differ in key ways. To help you understand those differences, let’s briefly examine the purpose of technical documentation.

The Purpose of Technical Documentation

Technical documents have two main purposes. The first is to help a company’s employees, customers, and clients understand critical parts of a product or service. 

For instance, when a business develops a new software product, everyone who interacts with it needs to understand certain – but different – aspects of it.

If you’re selling the software, you need to be able to tell your leads and prospects how it works. That information must be available in an easily readable format. The same applies to the policies that govern the product’s use.

People sometimes think that that information simply exists. But it’s produced by professional technical writers, whose responsibility is to convey necessary information in a way that’s helpful to end users.

These documents serve an important second purpose: recording a company’s essential data, which provides multiple levels of business value. When your essential data is well documented, your business can operate efficiently, uncover new insights, and increase its bottom line.

Procedural Documentation

Procedural documentation explains the ways in which various things should be accomplished. To be positioned for business success, companies must establish good policies, procedures, and guidelines for every functional area. Once they establish them, they need to write them.

What this looks like depends on business needs. One procedural document may describe a company’s expectations for its employees. Another may clarify a firm’s strategic and operational goals. 

A further distinction to make here is the important difference between business writing and technical writing. These documents may seem to fall under the category of business writing. Business writing often follows a more narrative-based structure. A business writer may need to speculate about market conditions or express performance goals. Procedural documentation sticks solely to the facts and presents them in a relatively straightforward manner.

Policy Documentation

Because procedural documentation focuses on policies, procedures, and guidelines, it is sometimes referred to as known as policy documentation. There are important differences between the two, with policy documentation being both a partner to and subset of procedural documentation. Here’s why.

At a typical company, executive leaders create policies and employees follow them. You can think of these as guiding tasks that need to be completed. They are generally internal documents, and there can be multiple levels, like policy documents for the entire organization, ones for individual departments, and so on. 

Policies must be written down in clear, simple, and logical language. While they can overlap, they cannot be duplicative or contradictory. Organizational personnel need to know exactly what is allowed and what is not, in terms of ethics, legality, and more.

Once the policies are established and written down, then the company is ready to document procedures for adhering to them. The procedures must be clearly related to the policies at all times, which means they must be updated with new information and supplemental materials. In a dynamic global business environment, policies and procedures can change frequently.

How Technical Writers Document Policies

Technical writers are responsible for all of this documentation. Throughout projects, they provide end-to-end support, so that they understand strategic positioning and are able to capture and enact updates in real time.

As technical writers compile the necessary and relevant information for a project, they build data collection systems that help them work more efficiently. For instance, procedural documentation factors significantly into business analysis because of business process engineering, a management strategy focused on analyzing and designing workflows and processes.

Overall, policy and procedural documents are a key part of business success. By outlining an organization’s business, compliance, and risk management requirements, they centralize critical knowledge. Human resource departments in particular benefit from high-quality procedural manuals and documentation, because they manage employee status and behavior.

Process Documentation

Process documentation acts as a roadmap for your organization, highlighting the various phases of a project’s execution. It describes the role that employees play in a particular phase of the project, which allows managers to recognize gaps in the process. 

One example that highlights the importance of this is staff turnover. People switch jobs all the time, especially in today’s remote work environment. When employees work on projects, they accumulate vast amounts of knowledge. But it would be impossible for them to write down everything they know.

Now, what if they leave in the middle of the project? What happens to all their valuable information? Does it leave with them, or does it live on in the organization? 

If a technical writer has documented the project’s process, then the information remains. Their manager can review it and pass it along to any new employees. This keeps the project moving along in a quick and efficient manner, despite the loss of personnel.

By engaging in this type of process mapping, managers can decrease costs and increase efficiency. They ensure that information, by virtue of being documented, remains valuable at all times. That’s because they have the ability to determine whether the steps in the process need to be revised or eliminated. 

But this only happens if they engage a technical writer from the beginning of a project. Processes are best understood from the beginning, so it helps to have the writer there early on. This way, they can collaborate with the right people and ask the right questions to fully understand the process, which allows them to document it properly for the right audience. 

Software Documentation

One of the most common forms of process documentation is software documentation, which  describes information step-by-step. Software rarely develops linearly. Instead, a programmer or a team of engineers begins writing code, often with guidance from their manager and business leaders. 

As the software program develops, the code changes depending on the likelihood of it achieving its intended purpose. Sometimes it can change completely, even if the goal remains the same. This process can be confusing in how multi-directional it is. 

When it comes time to document the development process, different engineers and programmers can have different ideas about what, exactly, they did and how the software should be optimally built. 

But if they have a technical writer on their team, ideally from the beginning of the project, they can see clear steps that explain both the development process and how end users will interact with it. This information can be passed up, down, and across the organization, clearly explaining the process behind the software to anyone who needs to know it.

How Essential Data Corporation Can Help with Documentation

Whether you need a single technical writer for a brief project or a team of consultants to produce a complete line of process or procedural documentation, Essential Data provides the highest quality of technical writing services in every industry. Throughout your entire project, you will work closely with an Engagement Manager from one of our 30 local offices at no additional cost, and the quality of our work is guaranteed. To get started, contact us, schedule a free consultation, call 800-221-0093, or email sales@edc.us – whatever is easiest for you.

Updated September 12, 2022

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