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Publishing creatively in technical writing

Richard Kennedy
by Richard Kennedy

Over my previous two articles I have talked about how creativity can be an excellent tool for technical writers. I have discussed how creativity can help technical writers:

In this final article on creativity in technical writing I will discuss employing creativity in the publishing phase. For the scope of this article, publishing is the process of outputting, editing, reviewing and finalising documentation formats for user consumption. Example formats include PDF documents and HTML pages.

Being creative during the publishing phase is challenging. Unlike the planning and writing phases, which have rich creative possibilities, the publishing phase is characterised by rigid output formats and methodical tasks.

Too often these tasks are completed ad hoc, which is wasteful because inefficiencies go unnoticed.

Technical writers are in a unique position to implement publishing improvements because they complete all the tasks that would be otherwise be split between designers, typesetters, indexers, proofreaders, and copyeditors, amongst others.

By reflecting on the publishing process with a creative mindset a technical writer can identify process inefficiencies and potential solutions. Asking questions is a great way to start considering the efficiency of your publishing process.

Have you defined processes for each publishing output?

Every publishing output has a different set of steps that must be completed before being finalised.

For example, HTML outputs need code-level adjustments for information such as the copyright year. Without process documentation there is a risk that this step will be overlooked. This risk is even higher if a new employee is completing the task for the first time.

Does your current process detail all the steps required to finalise each publishing output?

Would a new employee be able to complete the publishing process without assistance from a senior employee?

This question is closely linked to the first question. Ideally every technical writer should be able to publish and finalise documentation without supervision, but this simply isn’t possible if knowledge is only acquired on-the-job.

Do you proofread more content than necessary?

Proofreading is an essential task. History is filled with examples where this process was rushed with embarrassing results, but you should not review more pages than necessary.

Extra time is often spent reviewing unchanged topics or performing long spell checks on manuals filled with proper nouns that raise red flags with spell-checkers.

Explore software features and programmatic options that allow you to identify unchanged content and record manual-specific proper nouns. Using these tools to improve proofreading efficiency will reduce the cost of your documentation and bolster the reputation of your company.

Can you deliver content to the client more effectively?

Today’s technology provides more documentation delivery options than ever before. Rather than use email, why not switch to a cloud service such as Dropbox as your primary delivery medium?

This application allows you to maintain folders for all of your clients in a single location and finalising documentation is as simple as drag and drop. Login to the website on a browser and you can even review events to confirm that the file was added by you and received by the client.

Ultimately, being creative in the technical writing field is about taking a critical eye to the standards in your organisation and considering how they could be even better. Maintaining this level of scrutiny will not only benefit the company, but also improve your value as a technical writer.

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