Noel Atzmiller is a Technical Marketing Support Award Winner in the 2008-2009 STC Competitions.
by Noel Atzmiller
In 2007, I served as project manager for the Baker Atlas 75th Anniversary Book. This publication documented our company history through the use of engaging text set amidst many historical images. We chose a publishing firm in California, which managed an assigned writer, a graphics department in upstate New York, and a printing company in Dallas, Texas. Although I wrote some document text, my main tasks were to collect information, provide information and direction to the writer and to the graphics department, manage the document reviews, select and provide all images (and their captions), and maintain the production schedule.
When I was asked to lead this project, I had no experience in producing a technical-historical document. I learned a great deal during the process. I gathered some key “lessons learned” into the following categories: Resolve, Research and Respond. I hope this knowledge will benefit others who are faced with producing or managing technical-historical documentation.
Before you start the project, identify your primary decision maker. Consult with this person early in the project because several key decisions must be made. Determine the goal(s) and the main message(s) of your document. Will your work be designed to inform, motivate, commemorate or a combination of these objectives? Do you want to concentrate on details of the technological advancement or emphasize the contribution of past employees? Will your document rely on text for telling the story or will images – with captions – be your main vehicle?
Determine at what point to start your historical account, such as a specific event or an arbitrary date. Produce a document outline and obtain approval from the decision maker. Next, determine the tone of the writing, the approximate number of pages, and the basic page layout. If possible, obtain a similar document and refer to it during the discussion; your decision maker might not be able to visualize your ideas and would appreciate seeing a comparable book.
Discuss all costs up front, establish how you will contain them, and obtain a clear indication of your budget. If you plan to select a publishing firm and outside writers, obtain writing samples and sample documents. Require them to produce a preliminary production schedule and study it carefully. Finally, obtain a detailed quote.
Determine the review and approval process. Clearly delineate who will review the drafts and the pre-production copy. Decide if this process will occur in a group setting or if all reviewers will provide one person with their corrections and changes – for subsequent compilation.
If you are working for a “young” company with a short history, you will probably rely greatly on present employees for information. Locate as much information as possible before the writing begins. Extract information from every type of company document you can find, including marketing collateral, advertisements, newsletters, patents, Internet searches and newspaper/magazine articles. Analyze the information and decide what will be used.
Arrange interviews with retirees and current employees. These interviews could be in person, via email, or over the telephone. Produce a set of questions prior to the interviews. If you are using an outside writer, discuss the interviews beforehand and suggest potential questions. Inform interviewees that their knowledge is valuable and express appreciation for their time. During the interviews, be prepared to ask your questions, but also have the flexibility to digress if warranted.
Obtaining images may be difficult, especially vintage photos. If you determine that you need new or additional images, consider a photo contest for current employees. If promoted correctly, a contest can be very useful source of photos. Consider copyright issues if the photos were produced by outside photographers.
Be prepared to provide material that will supplement or replace the document contents. Draft reviews can quickly reveal gaps in the historical account. Do not be surprised if some information turns out to be wrong or dated incorrectly. If you are dealing with an outside writer, expect requests for additional data.
Photo selection can also require several changes or replacements. Have a collection of alternative photos you can supply when asked. Produce photo captions as early as possible in the review procedure, and be ready to revise them.
After receiving comments and corrections from the reviewers, act promptly to incorporate them into the document. Using the review procedure you established earlier, strive to distribute all updated copies as quickly as possible.
My hope is that these tips and suggestions will be useful for anyone producing a technical-historical document. I have other guidance I could offer on this topic for those who wish it. Feel free to contact me (email@example.com).
My thanks to the following people who assisted me in this article: Pam Boschee, Elizabeth Naggar and Beth Weber.