Content with the Technical: Doc Control— An Unlicensed Practice

Like the excellent bedside manner we find with all of our favorite television doctors, document control makes everything just a little easier. It’s important to remember that informative research and polished writing is rendered completely useless when doc control is lost. This is especially true when drafting longer pieces, anything over 10 to 15 pages– I like to treat with a little extra care.

The simplest addition you can do is include a Document Matrix (DM). This tool easily tracks relevant information such as author name, date, reviewers, etc. I’ve found that the best way of implementing this tracker is through a standard header, which will keep that aforementioned info at the top of every page. Tracked information can be customized to include specific demands like reviewer tasks, status updates, and signatures.

Quick aside: don’t set yourself up for failure! Draft content in MS Word or Google Docs. An Excel Spreadsheet is NOT A VIABLE OPTION for drafting bullet points and 2,000 character base descriptions for an Amazon Storefront page with over +100 products. It sounds simple, but department leaders will insist.

Beyond the limits of what a DM can do, namely track vital data and tasks, you’ll need to manage and apply the various stakeholder comments. I highly recommend creating another version and saving the doc with a simple notation. I prefer something simple like this [Filename.v2].

But keep in mind, filenames actually have high Search Engine Optimization (SEO) value so it’s definitely a good idea to incorporate style-guide specifics. These numbers increase the likelihood of appearing at the top of a search list, like a simple google search for a product. Increasing SEO value for your product assets (photos, bullet points, descriptions and even customer testimonials) will increase your standing on those same searches. Increasing your visibility and customer base!

We will go through SEO in more detail in a few weeks, but definitely keep it in mind as we continue through this material.

I wanted to wrap this week’s post by discussing what to do when bad document management practices are in place or worse, nothing is followed by anyone resulting in a hodgepodge of material notes and content drafts.

Ideally, you would be trusted with ample space to shake-up the chain of custody for any project or writing assignment, but that is just not feasible in a lot of situations. I don’t recommend starting out strong with demands. Try to implement your own strategy for document control, and when you think you’re ready to pitch the idea to your director, focus on the benefits of the change. For example, making Track Changes the standard for reviewer notes. This would stop some reviewers from turning in handwritten notes, or using comment bubbles, and even opting for complete rewrites. Streamlining the editing process with clear, easy to track changes.

There is a great deal of nuance that goes into high-level document management, but I hope this information was at least able to get you started on your journey to better document control. Next week we will be discussing best practices for using a Style Guide.

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Published by Jeffrey Graessley

Jeffrey Graessley is an R&D technical writer, poet and blogger (right here) @ Content with the Technical! Subscribe for weekly updates every Sunday morning!

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