Managing documents

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Any kind of writing involves multiple drafts of the same document. I think technical writing can be especially challenging, because normally there are several documents in development at the same time, often there are multiple reviewers for each. Some organizations have streamlined collaboration so that one document comes back with all the suggestions.

In my experience, however, most companies' review process is something more than handwritten notes from 15 reviewers but something less than the ideal single draft containing all 15 reviewers' changes. Planning how to handle all those files before the numbers explode can make the project run more smoothly. That attention to organization can also provide a solid base for clients unsure about how to manage documentation once it is created.

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Although each project is different and has its own needs, certain types of files are sure to be generated. Normally, in the absence of an existing document management structure, I create a set of folders to handle the types of documents I know will be generated during the project. sample folder structure

For example, usually there will be some type of source documents, such as an outdated versions. There will always be initial drafts of documents, at least one set of comments for each draft, at least one draft revision and a final draft. Sometimes there will be an approval process and associated documentation to maintain.

The size of the project and number and size of its deliverables may indicate modifications, but the skeleton structure shown at right usually works for me as a starting point. I always create separate folders for source documents; initial draft; subsequent drafts, comments, and revisions, and final versions and approval records.

In addition, I adopt an appropriate and consistent file naming convention, such as  DocName_v01.doc  for the initial draft, DocName_v01_CEOComments.doc for a file containing revision notes and DocName_v1_final.docx for a final draft. This makes it possible to identify the content by the filename and helps in culling files at the end of a project.

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