Writing effective documentation plans

On my first technical writing job in 1984, Linda Jaech, my first doc manager (and a damn good one!) taught me how to do a documentation plan. It was a profound part of my education as a writer; thinking about it, it may have been the single most important thing I ever learned about technical writing.

We printed our documentation plans back then on a Diablo 630 daisywheel printer (a name which will make all the old-timers who read this nod their heads and go “Uh-huh!”). I used the format for the projects I did at that company, then for contract assignments, and then when I was doing my first book proposals. (I’d print those out at home on my Juki daisywheel, a noisy little printer that was nevertheless very, very good. And it worked exactly like a Diablo 630.)

Over the years, I’ve updated the format, but apart from the addition of some items and sections and the vastly improved formatting available with a laser printer, it hasn’t changed much. I still have a printed copy of the documentation plan my first Microsoft manual from 1986 and, apart from the limited formatting you can do on a daisy wheel printer, it’s clearly the same format. I’ve used this format for well over 100 manuals and writing projects and maybe 40 book proposals, a couple of dozen of which have been published. The format is adaptable and easy to use. I think that’s pretty cool.

This series of posts is going to show you:

  • why you should plan
  • the sections in a documentation plan
  • an analysis of the individual sections
  • where to get a copy of my blank documentation plan template

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