To date, we have discussed the tools of effective procedure writing, as referenced in the poll question in the Technical Writing in Action group on LinkedIn. Yes, the ability to write and gather information are critical. Training is very valuable if it focuses on the right things. Mastery of procedure development tools (read, software) can only boost your effectiveness. These comprise options A, B and C in the poll question.
Option D, predictably enough, is “All of the above.” (There was an Option E, “Other,” which I discounted, because in the literal way my mind works, I could not select “Other” without implying Options A, B and C were all false. Thus, I did not vote in the poll. Sorry, Angel!)
The answer I would give to the question is “D+.” That is, the needs of an effective procedure writer are “all of the above,” but considerably more. In the next few installments, I will discuss some of these additional attributes of the effective procedure writer.
The first attribute is the ability to see beyond the computer monitor! In other words, the effective procedure writer recognizes the need to provide a greater service than just stringing words together to describe a process.
Can you provide your organization a much broader, more customer-focused and opportunistic vision for the organization’s documents? A member of the Technical Writer group posed an interesting question, basically how does she address the deficiencies in the writing in her new organization? That could be a political minefield (because you would unavoidably step on the toes of the person who developed the existing documents and for whatever reason thought they were good).
There are good ways and bad ways to address this issue. Stating, “your documents stink!” on your first day is not recommended, even though your analysis may be spot on. But I believe you have a duty as a procedure writer to lead your organization to an understanding of how good, well-structured documentation can provide great benefit to the organization (they sense some need or objective, or else you would not have the job).
So one critical key to effective procedure writing is to have a very clear, committed view of what procedures are, why they exist and how to help procedures achieve the best possible outcomes for the organization. Which of course brings me back to my Procedure Writing course.
Most of the course discusses these seemingly “peripheral” issues of procedure writing. That’s a fancy way of saying the first several sections of the course will provide a solid foundation of understanding related to procedure and other documentation. It is not the only valid view, but one I believe is well-established and has certainly served me well in my career. You may obtain a copy of the course, free, by writing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you!