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Document registers

Does your business have a document register?

It sounds a bit dry and perhaps a bit overly interested in details, but a document register can save a lot of time and keep things simple and consistent – I’ve certainly seen this in action as Communications Manager for companies with many forms and standard letters.

What is a document register?

A document register is simply a list of every document the business uses as standards. It can include forms, letters, marketing flyers, information guides, fact sheets, website banners, promotional articles, stationery items and eBooks.

If there are many documents, it is usually worth dividing into categories (list all the forms then all the flyers for example).

Document registers can also be a handy way to communicate with new team members – they can see what exists to help them learn about the business and ensure they don’t ‘reinvent the wheel’.

How does a document register work?

In its simplest form, the register just lists the documents so it’s easy to see what exists.

More complicated but infinitely more useful are registers that include a code for each document. These codes are changed each time a document is updated so the register becomes a reference for ensuring you have the most recent version of something.

And a record to spot any documents that are perhaps a bit old and overdue for a refresh.

Document register tips

Here are a few points I’ve learned from using document registers in different companies:

  • have only person with access to change the register – someone senior may also have access as a back up but limit updates to one person for control
  • keep the register easily available for all staff to view and occasionally remind people to check they have recent versions of documents
  • include everything, even if you don’t add a document code to it
  • add a notes column so you can note details about who designed or printed each document
  • keep it separate to stock records
  • make sure you use clear names for each document – ‘product guide’ or ‘insurance letter’ are a bit vague so ‘whatsit product guide’ and ‘accept insurance letter’ communicate more clearly
  • have a procedure that includes regular reviews of the documents register – both to ensure it is kept up to date but to note any documents that haven’t been updated in a while. use the notes column to record reviews even if documents aren’t actually updated

Any questions on who to make use of a document register?

Document codes

Do you manage a lot of documents? Do you worry about old versions getting confused with new versions?

This is why you see a document code on many documents, especially those from major organisations. They make it easy to tell one version from another at a glance – this is known as version control and can save a lot of problems.

Where do document codes come from?

There is no central system for giving documents codes – each business makes up its own system and introduces it as it is the business who needs to use the codes.

What does a document code include?

While there is no single coding system, most codes will include the date as that is the simplest way to determine how old a document is.

Other than that, it is up to you how the code is created. The complexity of your code will also depend on the number of documents you deal with – a few documents can be numbered 1 to 20 for example, but a large number of documents may be better divided into types and then given a number (e.g. F1 is form 1 and L24 is letter 24).

Tips for creating document codes

Here are a few tips from the systems I have created and used in the past:

  • include a version number so it is easy to refer back to previous versions. Particularly useful if two versions come into the same date period!
  • leave a gap between numbers so it is easy to add related documents later. For example, application form is F1 and change of address form is F5 so you can later add an increased cover application as F2
  • use dots rather than slashes to separate sections of a code – slashes can be misinterpreted by scanning software. So try 09.2010 instead of 09/2010
  • group like documents for simplicity, and consider naming them differently
  • if documents change fairly regularly, use month and year, not just the year in the codes
  • choose a consistent spot to place document codes – e.g. bottom left corner of the last page. It won’t work for all documents but it helps to have a starting point
  • record the document codes so it is easy to update them and to know which version is the most recent

Managing feedback

When I’m writing for some of my corporate clients, a number of people need to be involved in the document – usually a mix of technical experts and legal advisers, along with a manager or two. If you have ever had to deal with a committee consensus, you’ll know that this process can be frustrating and time-consuming.

The best results arise when everyone has the appropriate input with one or two people having responsibility for the final result – usually the writer and a senior manager.

Here are some of my tips to keep this process under control:

  • have all feedback come into a central place so it can be collated – and if a technical expert can collate it for you, even better!
  • as much as possible, get everyone involved to review the same draft by a specific deadline. This way, you can blend all of the feedback into the document in one go rather than having many drafts and missing details in the confusion. Most stakeholders then do not get another review – legal, management and you get to do final checks.
  • get the document as accurate as possible with one or two client representatives before it goes to the group
  • explain any potential issues before they start the review. For example, I often write ‘refer to page xx’ in a draft document rather than ‘refer to page 10’ to allow for layout changes. I warn clients of this when I give them the draft to save them and me dealing with page numbers unnecessarily
  • understand as much as possible who is who amongst the stakeholders. If Jane and Mary give opposing feedback – which should you rely on as technically correct and which is an opinion?
  • be willing to give way on some points if they aren’t important so that you can stand your ground on points where it is important – remember that the same information can be written in multiple correct ways, and it can be personal choice as to which is ‘better’

As a writer, it is my job to take their technical knowledge, legal requirements and document intentions and provide them with a clear, easy to read document. So sometimes I do exactly as their feedback requests (e.g. changing a measurement from 5mm to 5cm) and at other times I adjust their feedback for clarity.

Use your words wisely!

Presentation checklist

A few days ago, I posted about the importance of checking presentation as well as details of your content. Today, I am going to list the details I check for when reviewing a draft for a document’s design elements.

This list is in the order I think of them, not necessarily in any importance.

      • does the design complement your other materials, such as a website or business card? Does it suit your brand?
      • is your logo and/or business name included and in an appropriate way?
      • does the design match your message?
      • do any paragraphs end with a single word on a line? Professional designers call these ‘orphans’ and do everything to avoid them! I have often adjusted text to pull that last word onto the previous line
      • are headings and contents together? A heading at the bottom of a column and text in the next column is disjointed and looks strange
      • do headings stand out enough? This includes table headings, too
      • is there a consistent font size throughout the document? Headings may be bigger than the text, but should be the same as each other
      • are any tables, diagrams or pictures clearly labelled? Sometimes formatting pushes labels away from the item
      • can the design be adjusted to fit everything into one less page if it is currently an odd number? For example, printing is usually done in multiples of 4 pages so a 5 page document will actually need 8 pages printed
      • does everything match any relevant rules or style guidelines?
      • do contact details stand out sufficiently? People having to search for them are less likely to contact you
      • are the right things emphasised? For instance, if you have text in highlight boxes, do they stand out from the text? Are disclaimers and privacy statements attracting more attention than your main message?
      • are colours and fonts consistent throughout, except as design elements?

If you are happy with all of these details, you will be very close to the correct design for your needs.