Plain and simple: offices should have a standard look and feel for their documents. This gives documentation a recognizable identity and communicates to the audience that what they’re reading is updated and relevant. Ideally, this is achieved by developing and maintaining templates for office use. These templates could be for memos, procedures, meeting minutes, or any other documentation. So if you’re starting from scratch, how do you put together templates that are useful?
1. Frame It
Before you can think about what goes into each document, you have to think broader. How do you want the documents to look? What logo do you want to use? What information do you want in the header, footer, and cover page? Choose your fonts and colors. Essentially, provide the structure so that no matter what language the document is written in, it looks like it belongs to your office. These elements are the foundation for creating cohesion between multiple document types. Once you have this frame, you can customize it to make a number of templates.
It is worth noting that if your office has an established style, or one that came about organically, you should respect it. Try to match it as much as you can. Make changes with purpose and not for vanity’s sake. Update outdated logos, add information that’s missing, but try to respect color scheme, fonts, and other appearance choices. This prevents recent documents from seeming outdated. People will also be more likely to use a template that feels familiar to them rather than adopt a whole new style.
2. Determine Variations
Now identify the most common documents your office produces. Do you have a weekly meeting that needs minutes? Do you have dozens of procedures? Aim for the 3 or 4 most common variations at the most. Each common document type should have its own template so that it can prompt for information specific to the situation. You should also have a generic template that can be customized completely for off-the-cuff documents.
3. Make it Generic
Take each variation and put it into your frame. Then, fill it in with generic structure. Memos should have a “To” and “From” field. Procedures should have “Purpose” and “Scope” sections. Reference existing documents to determine the most common sections that belong in the template. Expand it to the point where you have a shell of a document just waiting for content.
4. Provide Prompts
After outlining sections that belong to each document, do your audience the favor of defining them. “Scope,” and many other generic headings, can mean different things to each author. Provide some text on the purpose of the section and what kind of information to include. This ensures that each author approaches the section in the same way.
5. Provide Examples
Lastly, provide examples for authors to reference during document creation. Sample tables and figures ensure that authors maintain style. Sample text provides authors a jumping off point. The more fill-in-the-blank your templates feel, the more successful the documents derived from them will be. Good luck!
About the Author
Greta Boller is a technical writer located in the Washington, D.C. area. For more information, please visit her bio page.