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By David Odell
Updating a legacy manual might seem quite straight forward at the outset, but it can be a journey that you start to regret as the task continues on much longer than you budgeted for. So what can be the pitfalls of what started of as a simple update? What do you have to make sure is in place first? And can you just hire a typist or do you need a professional technical writer to do the job for you.
As you get hold of the document that you plan to amend so that it is suitable for the new product there are a few things to consider. The first of which is, has any of the company information changed since the last version was produced?
The most obvious detail that you have to change is that of the copyright date, but there might also have been changes to such items as the company contact details, reworded legal text, the copyright and logo information of the other companies referenced, even what may have been a standard cover for the manual might have been seen as outdated and changed, as company image is all important these days.
Other technical documentation details might have changed since the last document was released. Are you using the same production methods for the documents? Is the same software being used?
Has the style guide changed? If so, fonts, sizes and the layout of the pages will have to change. There might also have been a change in the process and procedures used to up-issue a document because there were problems implementing the procedures when the last version was produced. On the technical content side, were all of the reviewers comments and revision information included in the released document, or were some held back because there was not enough time. If there were amendment notices released, were they included in the manual itself in preparation for any possible updates.
Did anybody consult any of the users of the previous manual on their opinions of the documentation? There are times that it is a good idea to consult the end-user to see if they have any comments about previous document releases. This will help you improve the quality of the documents that you are producing.
After you have decided what is required to update the document successfully, you have just one more aspect of the update to consider. Can you find a writer who can write in the same style as the original author so that a reader will not be able to spot the join between the legacy document and the document that they have has delivered with their new product?
So you can see, it might not be as straight forward as you first thought. But like everything, if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well. And if you can say that you have covered all of the above points in the production of your updated document, then the next time an upgrade is required, the whole process will run a lot smoother.
Having been a technical writer for over 25 years David Odell has worked with a number of software programs and within the constraints of various company methodologies. He has listed, and discussed, various tools, some free and some at a small cost, that can make a technical authors life a lot easier at his technical writing resources web site.