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5 Questions to Ask When Creating a Documentation Group

Being asked to take the reins of a brand new documentation department is a challenge that many professional technical writers relish, even though the training and development activities they participated in may never have prepared them for such a rewarding challenge. This article looks at forming a new documentation department, team or group and determining what’s needed, when it’s needed and what resources are available to help the new group carry out its mission.

Five Questions to Ask Yourself While Creating a New Documentation Department

by Eric Butow

Congratulations! You’re the manager of your company’s emerging documentation department — and your work has just begun. To create effective documentation for your customers, you not only have to build a sound team, but also build working relationships with all other departments in your company.

In my contracting travels, I’ve set up two new documentation departments in two very different settings. My first was a documentation department for a startup networking software company in 1999. The company’s only previous documentation was a slim manual written by a programmer.

In 2004, I helped set up a new documentation department at the financial aid division for a major bank. Over the years, this division had been passed along to different parent banks — the newest of which was shocked to find that no one had written documentation about financial-aid processes, and no documentation about the software they had used during the division’s last 20 years! As a result, the new parent organization decided that relying on the institutional memories of its employees was a major risk, so the documentation department was born.

When you create your own documentation department, you should ask yourself five simple questions that will help your new department show its value to the company as quickly as possible. These questions are similar to those that a good reporter must answer when documenting a story — who, what, where, why, and how? — and they are as important for a documentation department manager as they are for an ace journalist.

The questions are:

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