Documentation plays a key role in many parts of society, from businesses to government. It provides permanent sources of information which can be accessed and used as needed. Such documents take a variety of forms, ranging from books and papers to files and instruction manuals. It is largely because of documentation that people can find the information they need to make informed decisions and better understand the world around them. Because of this, an organization should make sure to write and store documents about any information they have.
However, before going any further, we should explain what exactly documentation is: Documentation is any kind of material that contains or records information for later use. Documents can be used for various purposes, such as communication, education, or helping instruct people on how to complete tasks.
How Does Documentation Help?
Documentation offers people with a way to record information, preserve it, and refer back to it later. As a result, people can access information when it is needed by reading the particular document that contains it.
Documents can also explain how to perform necessary tasks and responsibilities, which is especially helpful for people who are new to a job. For instance, a data analyst or technical writer may write a document about how to analyze a certain kind of data; even if its writer no longer works there, this document could be used to teach an employee to analyze that data. Without documentation, valuable information would be lost, people would have much more difficulty understanding concepts and data, and workers in many industries would not know what they were supposed to do or how to do it.
In addition, documentation creates a greater degree of coordination and cohesion among workers. A document gets every worker on the same page and ensure that they all know how their individual tasks fit into the greater scheme of things. In essence, by making sure everyone knows what they are supposed to do, documents help create a system where each worker contributes to the success of the organization, both on their own and collaboratively. This coordination, in turn, increases the efficiency and quality of work. Furthermore, documents enable greater communication between people. For instance, a company may issue a notification about updates to an organization’s policy so that members of that organization know to change their work accordingly.
The benefits of documentation go beyond the storage and conveying of information. It can also be useful in less immediate, obvious, and tangible ways. When an organization creates an efficient system of documentation, they demonstrate that they are truly devoted to the safeguarding and proper use of both their own information and that of their clients. Potential investors, in turn, will be more likely to take interest in or support the organization.
While documentation is generally useful across industries, it can also have specialized uses. For instance, in government, documents such as official correspondences and records ensure that administrative processes are performed in accordance with government policy. In the case of the healthcare industry, medical records play a vital role. These documents keep track of a patient’s medical history, which is used to provide recommendations for future care. Finally, the scientific community frequently uses documentation to record their findings as well as to serve as evidence for their discoveries or theories.
Types of Documentation
In general, documents can be sorted into one of four categories: informative documents, instructional documents, communication documents, and plans. A document’s category is determined by what purpose the information contained in that document is meant to serve.
Informative documents consist of documents that are meant to explain a topic, discovery, or idea to the reader. These documents describe the topic in detail while also providing the reader with the context they need to understand what is being discussed. Informative documents are most often used to educate the reader so they can then act on what they have learned. Examples of informative documents include:
- Informational files
- Scientific reports
- Research papers
An instructional document tells the reader how to do something. It will state what the task involves and walk the reader through each step required to complete it. These instructions should be clear and detailed so that there is no doubt about what is supposed to be done. Instructional documents are most often written by technical writers. This kind of document includes:
- User manuals
- Instructions on how to perform a task or job; training documents
Communication documents are materials that convey information from one person or group to another. They serve as a way of delivering messages that cannot be delivered in person. Furthermore, they can aid the usage of the other kinds of documentation by providing a means of transmitting those documents or their information to their intended readers. Examples of this kind of document include:
- Notifications about a newly assigned task
Plans consist of documents that are used to develop projects, products, or initiatives. They describe what the plan’s objective would entail, its importance, and how it would be accomplished. They also describe the resources and people required to execute something. Plans are often used alongside instructional documents, which explain how to perform the tasks needed to complete a plan. Examples of plans are:
- Project proposals
- Product requirements documents
The specific steps involved in writing documentation vary based on the kind of document being written. However, most, if not all, documents share are some general steps. These steps include:
Before beginning a document, the writer should create an outline of what the document will include and how the information will be formatted. This includes all the major components of the document along with brief descriptions of each of them. The outline should also model how the document components will be ordered. The outline makes writing and organizing the document easier, as it provides the writer with a framework to start from.
Table of Contents
The table of contents should be one of the first sections written for any document. While the table of contents does not provide much actual information, it is vital for readers to navigate a document. It lists each section of the document in order, and shows what page each of them can be found on. By laying out a document’s contents in this way, a table of contents both gives readers an idea of what to expect from each section, and helps them figure out where to look if they need a particular piece of information.
A document should have at least a brief introduction at the beginning. An introduction establishes what the document is about, what information it discusses, and why it is important. This enables readers to quickly get an idea of what the document is about and determine if they should read it.
Explain and Clarify
A writer should never assume readers will always understand what they are saying, especially if they are writing about a complicated topic. An expert on a subject can easily forget that their audience might not know much about that subject. Therefore, they need to thoroughly explain the information as well as clarify anything that could be complicated or confusing.
Consider the Audience and Purpose
To determine how to write a document, one should keep in mind who is intended to read the document, why they will be reading it, and what the purpose of the document is. For instance, if a writer makes an instruction manual to teach software developers how to perform their responsibilities, they will write the document in the form of a series of steps detailing how those responsibilities should be completed. By centering instructional value and software development in the document, the writer can both create the document more efficiently and make it easier for the intended audience to use.
Updating and Upkeep
Even after document is complete, the writer’s work is not necessarily finished. Several kinds of documents, particularly project plans and reports on long-term research, can require consistent updates that address changes to the topic or the writer’s understanding of it. If a document is becomes outdated, it become less useful.
Documentation ensures that important information is kept secure and usable. Considering how much of society requires information to function, the necessity of documentation should be clear. No matter what work a person or organization does, they should not neglect documentation.
How Can EDC Help?
No matter your industry or business size, documentation can make a positive impact. Working with skilled technical writers at Essential Data is sure to get the job done right.
Whether you need a single technical writer for a brief project or a team of consultants to produce a complete line of documentation, the quality of our work is guaranteed for you. Our clients work closely with an Engagement Manager from one of our 30 local offices for the entire length of your project at no additional cost. Contact us at (800) 221-0093 or firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.
Written by Noah Grayson