Document Development Life Cycle
The Document Development Life Cycle (DDLC) is a group of several phases in series that are followed by a technical writer to make a well defined and structured technical document. To become a good technical writer and attain success, he should have a detailed theoretical knowledge of DDLC. The various phases of DDLC are:
1. Understanding the Requirements
Understanding the requirements of the product is the first phase of the document development life cycle. Technical writer collect all the information of the product as per the requirements of the document or project. Gathering and analyzing essential requirements of the project is the main task performed during this phase. Here in this phase, information is not gathered only the requirements of the project are collected.
2. Audience Analysis
Documentation is done for users, clients collectively termed as audience. In this phase, technical writers analyze the type of audience for which the documents are to be created. Several types of audience exist throughout the world. The audience are at different levels or dissimilar in their practice and knowledge of the product. The category of audience differs according to the product. The audience are of mainly two types- General Audience (Novice Audience) and Experienced Audience (Special Audience).
The audience analysis can be carried out depending upon the type of audience, type and years of experience in the field, their educational background and usage of computers. This will help in identifying the type of audience.
3. Product Experience
This step consists of gathering the product information required to create the draft. The information can be gathered from the checklist, previous documents, SME’s, books, internet, testers etc. For this, technical writers should have good interpersonal skills for communication with the SME’s. This is an important stage in technical writing.
4. Preparing Prototype
A style guide or style manual is a set of formatting items and standards writing and designing documents, both for general use and for a particular organization. Preparing Prototype consists of various significant stages like template consideration, creating Style Guides.
Template Consideration- Template is the physical appearance of the document. All the standard values and specifications of the template need to be fixed while creating a template. Template creation requires some of the standards set such as page margins, headings, page size, alignments, fonts, etc. Once the design of the template is created, draft all the main contents in the template to create a comprehensive design such as Table of Contents (TOC), styles, style guides.
Style Guides- Style guides are very important in technical writing. In a big project with a big team, a particular style guide is followed to make the documentation devoid of any individual’s evident applied style. Style guide is a medium through which the document is created using specific standards. Style guide comprises of regulations and rules meant to be followed by everyone working on the project.
Microsoft style Guide for Technical Publication (MSTP)
This is the most commonly used style guide in many organizations published by Microsoft. The MSTP set different standards in technical writing and acts as a reference guide for writers. MSTP aims to guide content writers, technical writers and editors using Microsoft products. It acts as a general guiding tool for technical writers. Contents included explain concepts from naming specific elements of particular programs to general grammar rules. Being a product of Microsoft and the Microsoft applications widely used, this style guide is extensively used throughout.
Apart from MSTP, other style guides used in the industry are Apple style guide and Chicago Style Guide.
The Apple Publications Style Guide
This style guide provides guidelines for content in reference material, technical documentation, training programs, Apple instructional publications and for the software user interface. The editors, writers and developers can make use of this style guide to refer the writing style, Apple product terminology and practice. To create high quality and reliable documentation, the writers must follow this guide thoroughly.
The Chicago Manual of Style
This is a style guide intended for American English. 16 editions have been published so far containing citation and writing styles mainly used for publishing. It is accepted as the most effective guide for American English grammar, punctuation and style. It consists of topics related to publication of books and journals. It provides with various choices in various formats. It offers various other features such as use of both footnotes and/or in-text citations in addition to content notes. The citations can also be included with page numbers or even year of publication.
5. Developing Actual Help System
The actual development of the document and help system begins in this phase. Technical writer then drafts the gathered content according to the design of the template. This is where the document actually starts. This is the phase which requires maximum time amongst the other phases of DDLC. Table of Contents (TOC) with page numbers is created in the document. Cross references created are properly mentioned. Glossary and index are listed at the end of the document when all the content is drafted. Technical writer, in this phase, properly structures the document giving it a professional appearance. The structuring of the document is completed in this phase.
Reviews means checking the documents for any updations and errors. Typically, reviews can be classified as:
Technical Review- The principle behind conducting a technical review is to present the document free of technical errors. This is achieved through any corrections or implementing other alternative approaches.
The aim of a technical review is to present a technically advanced version of the product reviewed through various approaches. It is a form of peer review which is performed between a group of technical people which scrutinizes the document for its purpose and checks for any deviations from standards.
Editorial review- This review is done to check for the spellings, grammar, style guides, format style of the document.
7. Releasing the product
This is the phase where the product is ready for delivery to the client. Along with the product, online help with the assistance of software developers or respective documents are incorporated. Online help is stored in the CD or any such storage devices and delivered. Document mentioning the different versions of the product if available is delivered along with the product.