Your business documentation will change and evolve over time. How you create and interact with it will as well. Choices you make today about how you write, format, and store your information will impact its future. Here are four things to keep in mind as you begin to think strategically about your documentation.
1. Multiple Functions
Documentation often serves multiple purposes and audiences. Today your business notes may serve as a personal reminder. They will help you to complete a project more efficiently and consistently in the future. Over time this documentation may become part of a manual for your employees (or freelancers). While it’s important to write what you need for today, don’t forget to keep an eye to the unknown future.
2. Organize your content.
It’s your choice how to organize your content. Two examples are memos or brief outlines. It is helpful, but not a requirement, to be consistent. In addition to having a standard method for writing, it will also help you follow it.
While you don’t need to deeply edit your documentation, reading it over to check for typos and to ensure the steps are in a logical order will save you time in the future.
3. Keep it straightforward.
Be as simple in your writing as possible. Think to Shrunk & White’s Elements of Style: “Omit needless words!” Effusive use of long-winded synonyms won’t assist in completing fundamental tasks, they may also cause delays while the actual meaning is puzzled out.
A picture is worth a thousand words. If a visual will help, make sure it’s easy for you to add it. It doesn’t need to be a perfect professional photograph if it’s clear and adds to the words, a photo or a screenshot may save time in the future.
4. Beware magic
There are many options available to help you take and format notes. It’s easy to listen to the siren song of novel magical solutions that look perfect. Not only may they have additional costs, they may not have key functionality you require. However, it’s important that you enjoy using what you choose.
While I advocate leaving most stylistic formatting until the last possible moment, a visually pleasing system will make you want to use it. I suggest that you choose a system that allows access to both edit and view from almost anywhere and any manner of devices. Yes, I believe a notebook with handwritten notes can be a valid format to create documentation!
Questions to think about:
- Who is the primary audience today for your business notes?
- Where do you most need to edit and access this information?
- Do you think this may change in the next six months? A year from now?
- Do you need to add photos or screenshots?
- Will you write essay-style memos, or a condensed checklist?
- Do you need to easily create copies either by sharing or printing?
- Do you need to purchase a subscription to access your notes? What happens if you stop paying?
- Can you easily move your notes to another format?