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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Documentation and Gardening

Whenever I get a chance, I enjoy giving my green thumb a workout and caring for plants that bear fruit. Unfortunately, I'm not doing any gardening right now because of a drought and other factors. However, I'm still nursing an orchid plant. Where am I going with this?

I haven't suddenly shifted gears and turned this blog into a gardening one.  But I think gardening and documentation have something in common: they both take tenacity and patience.

Let me draw some parallels between the two.

Plan ahead. Before you plant a garden, you need to do some research. For example, what kind of soil are you going to use. Does the plant need more sunlight or more shade? How often do you need to water the plant?

With technical documentation, you need to do something similar. For example, you need to find out who the audience is that you're writing for. What kind of document are you writing? What kind of questions do you need to ask the SMEs? How will you structure the document?

Answering these questions will go a long way to help you to successfully complete a technical document and create a good garden. 

Be persistent and flexible. To make sure your garden thrives, you need to be active in caring for your plants. Constant care will help your garden grow. You also need to be willing to make some shifts when your garden isn't flourishing.

For example, you might need to change the location of your plants so they get more sunlight. If you have trees that have been bearing fruits for a while but the harvest declines each year, you need to prune them. There's also a possibility you need to completely uproot dead trees and plants because they're diseased or dying.

It's the same thing with documentation. Documentation isn't going to write itself. If you need to submit a technical document, you need to write it first. You may need to make adjustments to your document as it grows or evolves. For example, what you started off with may need to change because it's not reflecting the product, service, or the subject anymore. Or let's say you're documenting software and there are some new features for the upcoming release. You need to write the documentation to reflect these changes. There may even be documentation you need to trash but it's simply not applicable anymore

As a technical writer, expect you may need to do a writing and rewriting with documents you slaved away for hours, days, months, or even years. And the same thing with gardening, you may need to start over after a long time of caring for that one orchid. But if you are persistent and flexible, you should be able to overcome any obstacle that comes your way.

Factor in the unexpected. A disease might kill your plants. This actually happened to my zucchini plants one year. Or you might have seeds that are D.O.A. It's the same with documents. The "powers that be" might pull the plug on a project and the documents will die with it. Or the project goes in a completely different direction and the documentation needs to do the same. What if a company folds or someone you're working with suddenly quits? These are things that can happen and you need to account for these possibilities mentally when writing documentation. 

Be patient. Your garden isn't going to grow and yield fruit overnight. You shouldn't expect documentation to be completed overnight either. Sometimes, you'll be waiting for SMEs to get around to your questions when you want to finish up a section of the document. You might be waiting anywhere from hours to months to finish this up. Even if you try to follow up with the SME, he or she might not simply have the time. You need to move on with another document until they're ready.

If you are willing to deal with the dynamics of this universe, then you should be able to write technical documentation and plant a garden.

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