Managing Your Writing Project
by Ron Kurtus (revised 6 April 2004)
When you are assigned to a writing project, it is good practice to follow general project management methods as part of your process. An important part of managing a writing project is documenting all the requirements and initial factors.
You should also document your progress, the outcome and lessons learned. This will help you in this project and in future writing projects.
Questions you may have include:
- What is the general requirement of the project?
- How do you do a writing plan?
- What are the results of such actions?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Get general requirement
A writing project usually starts with receiving a general requirement, such as "Upgrade our software's user manual, including all changes and new features." You may also get a deadline for when the project is due.
Ideally, you would like to get this information near the beginning of the work on the product, but unfortunately writers are often brought in almost as an afterthought. This makes it all the more important to understand the requirement.
In the case of a software project, the development manager typically has a specification of product features wanted. Each feature may be listed as an individual specification, as part of an overall plan of action. The manager works with the programmers to develop the software. Ideally, the writer should be involved in this development process, although they are often called in down the road the document what has already been completed.
Likewise, in the case of writing hardware documentation, the manager works with the engineers on developing a product according to a specification or technical requirement document. The writer usually documents how to use or repair the final product, as well as the product's various features.
Know what is needed
In either case, it is important to know exactly what is needed and to get involved as soon as possible.
Put together writing plan
Once you get the general requirements for the manual that you are to write, you should write up a project management plan. You need to define the internal and external customers, outline the product definition, do research and estimate the time needed to do the job.
Define internal customer
State who is the manager of this project that you must satisfy and who receives the final product. This is the person who is responsible and who you must make happy.
Define external customers and users
State who the external users/customers are and what type of information they need. Knowing the users' wants and needs is important in delivering a good product. Unfortunately, sometimes what the internal customer/manager wants and what the external user needs are different. You may discuss the difference with your boss, but ultimately you have to look to who signs your paycheck or gives your performance evaluations to determine to whom you listen.
Outline product definition
Taking the general requirement and knowledge of what your internal and external customers want, you can specifically define what product you will be writing and delivering.
In the case of our example of writing an upgrade to the existing user manual, it is a good idea to define the original manual. If that has never been stated formally, it is a good idea to do that now.
Our original manual consists of:
- An installation procedure
- Setup procedure
- Procedures for using each feature, along with explanations of their functions
- Descriptions of all reports that can be printed
The upgrade will consist of:
- The original manual
- With changes and additions
You need to do some research to learn about the product and its features.
As previously stated, the development manager works with the engineers or programmers to build certain product features. You must understand these features and include them in your documentation. Often you must interview a subject matter expert to get the information you need.
This all takes time. It is difficult to tell how long it will take you to get the information you need to write about the product. Even if you are not required to do so, you should keep track on how long it takes you to get up to speed with your product knowledge, as well as to gain new knowledge.
Of course, as you become more knowledgeable about a product, the research time is reduced.
Estimate time to do work
The time it takes to write a document can be split into:
- Write the document
- Graphics and special effects
- Putting in delivery media
Know what parts of your project are included and give an estimate how long it will take each part.
Finally, you implement your plan and keep track of your work.
The results of effectively managing your writing project are usually that you get the work done on schedule, you do the work that is wanted and you have less stress, because the project is under control. If problems do occur--and they probably will--you will be able to handle or resolve them more effectively.
In general, good planning results in effective management, such that you can do more in a shorter time.
When you get a writing project, you should effectively manage your work. This means to make sure you understand the requirements and put together a writing plan, where you define the players, define the product, estimate time to do the job and them implement your plans.
Some don't have time to plan -- but they have time to do the job over
Resources and references
Managing Your Documentation Projects by JoAnn T. Hackos; Wiley & Sons, (1995) $39.99 - Excellent project management techniques for large documentation projects. Exhaustive management resource.
Questions and comments
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