The Company is rolling out a new piece of point-of-sale inventory management software. You need to write online help, a printed manual, a quick start guide, and produce instructional videos for training staff to use. How are you going to get it all done? Technical writers often need to manage more than one large project at a time. Developing good project management skills is as important (or more so) than good writing skills. Time management also plays an important role. No one wants to be responsible for holding up the release of a new product.
|Define a Timetable|
If you are on your own, chances are you'll be doing some delegating just the same. Your Company may have an art department that handles the illustrations, but more likely you'll be dealing with an outside graphic designer for visual aids. Many aspects of a project can be outsourced to specialists. Does your Company work this way? It is even possible to outsource technical writing; so an in-house writer may be more of an editor and project manager than an actual writer?
Check Your Ego at the Door
The successful technical writer, like any successful member of a team, should approach situations like these with a healthy sense of detachment. When tempers wear thin and everyone is working too many hours, try not to take other team members' sarcasm personally or let someone's rude e-mail touch off a flaming session. Above all, do not let anger cloud your behavior, nor say anything which you may regret later. If you do become angry, excuse yourself. Walk around the building. Go out to lunch. Remember that everyone on the team has a common goal, the successful completion of the task at hand. Keep your emotions in check and don't sink to the level of any coworkers who have lost control of their emotions.
|Feedback from Users|
|Keep Your Momentum|
One of the most effective ways to keep up your momentum on a project is to keep it moving forward, even if only minimally. Often, technical writers will be tasked with working on documentation for several products at once, and it will be difficult to devote time to one when another has a much closer deadline. Regularly spending a little time on the back burner project, though, can have very beneficial effects. When you know both projects are moving forward, you won't experience the stress of feeling that you have no time to devote to the lower priority project. You'll know that when you do have time to devote to it, the project will already be underway and will have a momentum of its own. When it does become your high priority project, you'll be able to jump into something that you have already moved forward, instead of cranking a new project up from scratch.
Another way to keep your focus is to see how far you've come. As you're writing chapter after chapter of a manual, it may seem that the task is endless, especially if design changes have forced you to revise sections of the manual. Instead of getting discouraged about ever finishing, take some time to review all the work you have done so far. Page through the transcripts of all the interviews you've conducted, scroll down all the pages of notes, outlines, and draft copy you've created. When a project seems endless, noting just how much you've achieved thus far will help you see that you will get to the end of your draft if you just keep going. Taking a few minutes to look back may also help you remember a detail or an example which you once meant to include in your copy but that had slipped your mind until now.
The strategies above are effective ones in battling or preventing the dreaded writer's block. Writer's block can strike new and experienced writers equally. It often comes at the start of a project, when you know you need to put those first words down but just don't know what to say. You may be tempted to put off your draft for another day (or several). You may conclude that you haven't done enough research. More than likely, though, you're experiencing fear. Fear that you will not write this manual well. When faced with a large task, many writers can get stuck. The crucial thing to do, though, is to start anyway. Write something. Even if it has to be removed or completely revised later, it is best to put words on the page. If you put the work off, the stress of falling behind schedule will only make the writer's block worse. If you wait too long, you won't have time to give the project the quality it deserves. Keeping a project moving forward, as we mentioned above, keeps stress levels down and lessens the chance of writer's block rearing its head. Reviewing your notes can also help you remember that you have plenty of material to write about. You may also hit on an angle that will help you begin.
It's wise to keep in regular contact with team members that you depend on. Check in with them periodically to see how they're doing. Ask them if there's anything they need from you. You'll get a sense early on if someone is a potential source of trouble. Team members who are slow to return e-mail or phone calls may be equally slow to turn in work down the road. People like this often mean well, but suffer from poor organization. They are always behind and spend their time putting out the fires they've started by always running late. For coworkers like this, the squeaky wheel usually gets the grease. If they hear from you regularly, they'll keep your project and your needs in mind. Be patient, and be persistent, but don't be pushy. Ask how you can help. Establishing a good relationship with the people you depend on can forestall eleventh hour emergencies.
Unfortunately, this strategy won't always work. Sometimes you'll need to go to a supervisor or project leader to report that your team member is holding up the project. Keep records of your contact with team members, in case this comes up. You'll want to show that you made regular efforts to stay in touch, offered support and feedback, and so forth. You're more likely to get the manager or leader on your side if you prove that you've done everything you can to get the project materials pulled together yourself.