If you get the feeling of déjà vu when you sit down to revise outdated materials, you aren’t alone.
Companies spend countless hours and budgeted dollars keeping their existing content up to date, whether they are refreshing product information manuals, policy and procedure manuals, training materials, website content, or the like. In fact, studies have shown that 60 percent of an organization’s stored documents are out of date or even obsolete.
Document Revision Curve
As you grab that red pen and prepare to open that binder, you’re probably wondering if there’s a way to predict or forecast your company’s materials update needs. In other words, how can you get out ahead of your company’s document revision schedule? To come up with a plan for your company, it is helpful to consider the document revision curve:
As your company brings a new product into production, starts a new training program, or creates a website, you create documentation. This is the time when the formatting and content decisions are made and when the document contains all the latest-and-greatest information available. The document is published either digitally or physically, and the master copy is stored or archived.
Maybe there were typos or minor formatting issues that got missed with the first document release. Perhaps there has been a change in the way the product is packaged, or there is some other small adjustment like a change to staff contact information. Either the organization keeps notes about those adjustments and holds them for a later revision, or it assigns someone to make the minor changes and store a new master copy. Usually, this isn’t a big effort and can be accomplished with relatively minor cost to the organization, especially when the master document has been archived.
As time moves on, change happens. Your company’s documents become more and more outdated as minor changes pile up or as major changes are rolled out. Software upgrades, new product lines, or industry regulation amendments can mean major revisions to your company’s materials. Suddenly, customers notice that your website shows outdated content, assembly instructions are going out with the wrong part counts, or your elearning course has last year’s training information. Putting off major revisions to your documentation is no longer an option—your company’s reputation and corporate liability are at stake as well as the satisfaction of your customers.
Tips for Planning Updates
The best time to begin planning for document revisions is immediately upon release of a new document. Some general rules of thumb to follow when planning document updates include:
- Software: Online help and user guides should be reviewed at least annually. If you know that your organization is planning a new software release, proactively meet with the subject matter experts, and nail down documentation revisions so you aren’t scrambling to catch up afterward.
- Safety or operating manuals: Any type of manual that demonstrates a workflow, safety procedure, or manufacturing process should be updated whenever there are process changes. If there have not been any changes, then an annual review of all documentation should be scheduled to ensure nothing has been missed.
- Personnel manuals: Changes to training requirements or human resource procedures should always prompt a revision of employee manuals. Again, an annual review is recommended if there have been no recent adjustments.
- Organizational policies and procedures: Any major changes to the company organization charts should result in a documentation review. Otherwise, plan to check every six months to determine whether there have been management turnovers, title changes, or revisions to reporting structures.
- Websites: Website content has to be fresh and up to date. Review information every three months at a minimum—more often if your industry is rapidly changing.
- Instructor-led training and elearning: Training materials often need to be refreshed annually to stay current on standards and best practices. While some information is universal and timeless, much of the course content can quickly date itself by its reference material, technology in which it was created, and other time-sensitive components.
At ProEdit, we’re ready to help your organization plan for and stay ahead of the content revision curve. Contact us, and we’ll help you be proactive with your company’s content update process.
Source: Roger Evernden and Elaine Evernden, Information; First (Oxford, UK: Elsevier, 2003).