Write and own your content, or someone will write and own it for you

Don't ignore your customers. flickr image by Ron PloofAdrian Baniak has written an article (3 Ways to Engage with Today’s Empowered Consumer) about how brands can “cut through the clutter” and communicate with their customers and prospect. He states one of the key ways to do this is “Write Your Own Tale, Or Someone Else Will Do It First”.

This mantra was originally made by Lisa Shalett, a partner at Goldman Sachs, and the global head of brand marketing and digital strategy. Continue reading

Webinar: Planning User Documentation When You Are a Startup Business

In conjunction with The Society for Technical Communication, we’ll be presenting the webinar Planning User Documentation When You Are a Startup Business on Tuesday, 19th February.

In this presentation, we’ll look at how to plan a user documentation project when you’re working for a startup technology company. Working in this environment gives you the opportunity to work “from a clean sheet,” but it also has its own challenges of working in a dynamic and rapidly changing environment.
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Case study: Creating an easy to use Listener Guide for the Samaritans and the Prison Service

Through its Listener Scheme in prisons, Samaritans  provides  emotional support to prisoners who are struggling to cope, are self harming or are feeling suicidal.

Guidance for Samaritans volunteers that run and support Listener schemes was contained in a hard copy manual (the Guide to Prisons) which was cumbersome to update, difficult to navigate and not in a format that made it easy to share with prison staff. As a result, over the years, volunteers referred to it  less and less frequently meaning that consistency in delivery of the Listener scheme across the prison estate was being compromised.

Cherryleaf were tasked with converting the manual to a fully searchable, easy to use, online resource that would link to other relevant information on the Samaritans intranet and could also be made available on the Prison Service intranet. The new online Guide to the Listener scheme means that both Samaritans volunteers and prison staff have access to the same, up to date, comprehensive set of guidelines and information.

Maria Foster, Samaritans’ Prison Support Officer said:

“For Samaritans volunteers, having the information available on the intranet rather than in a manual in their branches, means they can find out what they need to know at any time; the search facility and page style ensures that information can be located and read quickly and easily.

For prison staff, this is the first time they will be able to see all of the Samaritans guidelines for running the Listener scheme; this will help to further develop their understanding of the scheme and will support them in facilitating the operation of the scheme in their prison.

Samaritans is delighted with the result of the project;

Cherryleaf understood the brief and very quickly got to grips with the subject matter, turning a cumbersome manual into a streamlined user friendly resource.”

 

The Samaritans provides confidential emotional support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress, despair or suicidal thoughts. You can talk to them, any time, on 08457 909090 (UK), 1850 60 90 90 (Republic of Ireland) or jo@samaritans.org .

Cherryleaf featured in Data Quality Pro Journal – improving Healthcare data quality through policy and procedure management

Data Quality Pro logoIn Data Quality Pro Journal, Dylan Jones interviews Ellis Pratt, Director at Cherryleaf, about how to improve Healthcare data quality through policy and procedure management. According to Dylan,

“One of the single most common root-causes of poor information quality is outdated documentation and a lack of governance in the way policies and procedures are managed. Nowhere is this more critical than in the healthcare sector.”

Ellis shares a range of practical techniques and methods to help improve policy and procedure documentation within the healthcare sector.

Article – How to improve Healthcare data quality through policy and procedure management.

See also:

When Mercedes made emotional owner’s handbooks

In this week’s Autocar magazine, Chris Goodwin bemoans the fact that Daimler AG has taken the romance out of its owner’s handbooks.

He refers to the handbooks for Mercedes cars built in the 1980s, and how they congratulated the owner on their wise decision to purchase an expensive, high quality car:

1980s Mercedes handbook

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Writing clear policy documents

Clear policies and procedures can have a profound effect on any organisation; they ensure that people know what they are doing, systems work properly and the people within the organisation are confident that the information in the policies and procedures is accessible, easy to understand and current.

However, writing clear policy documents can be very difficult to do.

Before you can write a good policy, you need clear decisions on which to base your writing. If the organisation doesn’t have a clear sense of what it wants to do, you as the writer will be compromised – there is only so much you can do with confusing or incomplete information. Policymakers must agree on policy before you, the writer, can write the policies.

You must also decide on your audience – whom you are writing for. The answer is often, our policy is for everyone, they all need to read and understand it. However, this means you have to write a document that must address multiple audiences with different agendas.

The temptation is to write policy documents primarily for those who audit the policies, which means the documents are often written in the passive voice. The problem with that is it can cause  a reader to become a passive spectator – they don’t ‘get’ what they are expected to do. The rules here is simple:

  • Imagine the least experienced user and write for that person.
  • Write primarily for those who need to use or implement the information.

Policies and procedures should always accomplish something – never write a policy or procedure just because it seems like a good idea. Very often policies and procedures can be knee jerk reactions to an incident. Somebody makes a mistake and someone else says “we should put a policy in place in case it happens again”.

You need to be a ruthless editor to avoid repetition and confusion across a myriad of documents. Break information down into ‘chunks’ or ‘topics’, with each topic containing one subject with a specific purpose, and then refer to (or embed) that topic in the other documents.

We’ve been working on a project to simplify policy documents within an NHS Trust. It’s a challenge simplifying a set of complex interlocking documents, but the results can be striking – helping staff understand why they should do things in a certain way and what the organisation is aiming to achieve.

Our client’s fire risk assessment report generator goes live this week

In the UK, every building, apart from private single dwellings, needs to be assessed for fire risk every three years. To do this, a fire risk assessor will assess the building and write a report on their findings and recommendations. For offices, these reports can be 30 pages long, and it can take an assessor a full day to complete the report.

We’ve been working with a fire risk assessment firm to create a system for them that generates these reports in less time and in a more consistent way. Like many organisations, they’ve been using Microsoft Word to write the reports, and this can lead to a wide variation in the way the reports are presented.

Cherryleaf has been developing a report generator for them that significantly reduces the time needed to produce their reports – they believe they can reduce the time needed from a day to an hour – and, this week, they’ve started to print out the assessments they’ve been writing.

So what did we create for them?

There were a number of potential software applications we could have used (for example, Author-it, Mindtouch and Confluence), but the best fit for this client was Confluence. Within this application, we created a master report ‘boilerplate’ that contained all the key information that should go into a fire risk assessment. This master boilerplate ensures there are no omissions in each report.

On the individual pages within the report, there are numerous drop-down sentences and blank text boxes for the assessors to choose. There are also ‘variables’, for chunks of information that need to appear in more than one place in the report – they are embedded in appropriate paragraphs. If you change the information contained in the variable, then this change is implemented at the appropriate places in the document.

The project has produced a number of challenges. For the client, they have been looking hard at the content that goes into an assessment report – and how to create a single report that satisfies the many different standards for fire risk assessments. For us, we’ve had to create a system that works for people who might not be very technically literate. For example, people who have never uploaded an image into a document before. We’ve also had to create something that’s very flexible – suitable for assessments of small buildings such as bandstands, bus shelters and suchlike, to big buildings such as tower blocks.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say, and we’ll soon be able to see how much time the client will save. The signs are looking good, and there’s likely to be further enhancements and developments to their system in the future.

At a rough estimate, there are 10 million buildings in the UK that need to be assessed for fire risk each year. If our system reduces, at a conservative estimate, the time needed to produce each report by 4 hours, then there’s the potential for it to save 40 million hours of writing time per year.