Myths About Quality of Documents

There are several myths regarding the quality of documentation. Here, we will discuss a few common myths.

Myth 1: Quality is an Editorial Function

Quality is not just an editorial task. Writers should understand that the only way to improve quality is to prevent introduction of errors instead of xing them. Try to produce quality drafts, with as fewer editorial and technical errors as you possibly can. For this, you should be able to de ne and measure the quality of the document. This can be done by determining company-specific standards, styles, processes, and checklists that have to be rigidly implemented for all the documents.
 
Fact: Quality has to be taken into account in all the stages of the documentation process. 

Myth 2: Quality is Applied at the End of a Project

Technical writing is a meticulous process: gathering information, structuring information, writing, rewriting, reviewing, editing, quality checking, and production. Some of the tasks may have to be done a number of times. Letting reviewers nd mistakes in a document during the reviewing phase. It makes the entire review and rewriting phase a time consuming process. It also makes them form a negative opinion about the quality of the work produced by you.

Try to improve the quality of the document by improving the quality of the input i.e., by preventing the introduction of errors in documentation. For this, quality must be defined and then designed into the document, not evaluated only at the end of the writing phase. To achieve quality and hence customer satisfaction, you have to follow certain styles, formats, and processes to help you work in a more professional manner.

Don’t follow them mechanically, follow them to improve as a writer. This will help to produce documents that are usable and have a high level of quality.

Fact: Quality must be designed into a project, not evaluated only at the end. 

Myth 3: Writers are Responsible for Testing Documentation

Most of the organizations feel there is no need for testing documentation and justify that it is the writer’s responsibility to write an error free and quality document. According to them these aspects should be considered during the writing phase.

They feel that the edits and reviews take care of errors if any and hence there is no need for testing the document. For them, the idea of sparing time to test the documentation seem to be absolutely ridiculous, especially, when there is barely enough time to test the software/product. This usually happens in the following cases:

    • When the decisions of the documentation team is taken by a person who does not know about the technical writing concepts and issues.
    • The persons to whom the documentation manager reports to does not understand the requirements of the testing the documentation.
Fact: Writers are responsible for creating an error free document, but the QA and/or support engineers are responsible for performing the QA of the documents.
 
Myth 4: Only bad writers use standards and guidelines
 
Some technical writers feel that standards, guidelines and checklists are not for them because they are good writers. I remember an instance, wherein a trainee writer declared that she completely disagreed with the measures that are being put forward for quality control (using checklists, guidelines, etc.).

According to her, a system is no substitute for common sense and hence putting a system into place was useless. Now, wouldn’t that mean that all the technical writers around the globe are useless, because not only do they use various quality control systems for documentation, but recommend them as well. This shows how good some writers think themselves to be, but also shows how ignorant they are. What they need to understand is, using guidelines and checklists does  not question their writing skills.

    • It is a proven way of reducing errors and improving the quality of the documents
    • It helps in maintaining consistency in the documentation when multiple writers work on a single project.
    • It avoids unwanted discussions and arguments in deciding what was agreed upon sometime back.

If the writers themselves regard standards and guidelines as useless, we should not blame the others for doing so. Documentation standards is actually a formalized database of the decisions about quality related standard style, language, terminology, document structure, content, and format. Some of them are incorporated directly into word processor templates (font sizes, margins, page layout, indents, bullet formats, and so on).

Other standards (terminology, acronyms, abbreviations, capitalization of headings, preferred spellings, punctuation, and hyphenation) may need to be documented and used by the writers.

Fact: All the writers irrespective of their experience or position in the organization should make use of standards, guidelines, checklists, and follow quality control methods.

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2 Responses

  1. Interesting perspective regarding how technical writers do and should approach standards and guidelines. The entire writing and publishing process does seem to require a good mix of process and “common sense”–the latter being more subjective and harder to define, which is why there is so much discussion about this topic (what skills technical writers need to be ‘good writers’). Great post.

  2. Thanks! I totally agree with you!

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