Building intelligence into business documents

Often business documents, such as sales proposals and annual reports, are a joint effort between various people and departments. It involves collaborative writing and incorporating existing content. For printable documents, this collaboration can make it really difficult to maintain a consistent level of quality, writing style and “look and feel”.

For Technical Communicators, there’s an opportunity to provide their organisations with systems that produce key business documents in a more efficient way. They have the skills and experience to build systems that can (a) guide a writer through the process of developing a new document, and (b) enforce content and layout standards.

The advantage of a such a system is that writers who might not be familiar with writing a particular document are no longer faced with a blank sheet to begin with. It’s possible to create a system that can build the bulk of the document in a matter of minutes, leaving the writer with the task of customising the information to suit the requirements of each particular situation.

The result of this approach is that:

  • A document is pre-structured in the appropriate format
  • Mandatory information is included automatically in the document
  • Actual writing time is greatly reduced
  • The skills required to produce high quality documents are significantly lowered
  • People can contribute easily, and can be guided on how to best write their contributions
  • The organisation creates more consistent documents

To build a system like this, the organisation needs to:

  • Create a global design for the document, including contributions from other departments
  • Define the workflow and sign-off procedures
  • Develop base content and reusable content objects from various departments
  • Create boilerplate documents for various situations
  • Deploy the system to the contributors and editors

The good news is, if it has a Technical Author working for them, then the organisation already has someone with the skills and experience to carry out these tasks correctly. If you don’t, then don’t forget Cherryleaf can help.

6 Comments

Paul K. Sholar

Beware of a couple of things:

* A template-driven authoring system might be designed to “fight the previous war” and thus inhibit flexibility to address new markets/needs.

* Outputs shouldn’t appear too monotonous similar to the audience; allow for some variability of presentation & design for each document/fragment type.

Techquestioner

I think some types of organizations do this as a matter of course. Specialist law firms that handle industrial mergers, and organizations that do research and development have a lot of standardized forms for contracts, offers, RFPs, R&D proposals, and statements of work.

I think many other organizations could benefit from intelligently designed “form” documents. Organizations working within SDLC guidelines can benefit from templates for the various levels of specifications documents as well. It’s much easier for those complying with the specifications to verify that all specs are met if all the documents have a standard format and organization.

Gordon

Couldn’t agree more, we ARE good at this kind of thing.

Now, if I could just get everyone at my company to read this blog post… failing that, how do we convince them to let us help?

ellis

I would just do it. Perhaps even build a proof of concept for a document and show it to them.

John McMahon

The idea of docs as apps goes way back to vba for excel and word mail merges.

Folks have been building docs-based apps for a long time and perhaps didn’t realize they were doing so.

Check out sheetster.com the only open source web spreadsheet server designed as a docs apps platform… You can make a form that submits data into a spreadsheet then use JavaScript in the browser and rest Apis on the server to do almost anything you could do using vba in the past.

ellis

Perhaps I should have entitled this post ‘building knowledge into business documents’ as I think you’re talking about a different approach. It’s still worth considering though.

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