Lead Writer: Kieran Morgan | Peer Reviewer/s: John New | Managing Editor: Kieran Morgan

This chapter focuses on the final stages of document creation, emphasizing document control and publication. It guides technical writers through principles and practical steps such as establishing document control, obtaining approvals, conducting final checks, and communicating with stakeholders. Additionally, it distinguishes between documents and records, explores the document lifecycle, and aligns its principles with ISO 9001 standards.

Audience Icon Who Should Read This
• Aspiring Technical Writers
• Beginner Technical Writers
• Cross-Domain Professionals
Table of Contents: Technical Writing Process
Previous: Chapter 23: Translation PracticeNext: Chapter 25: Manage Progress

1. Introduction

Imagine reaching the summit of a mountain after a long and arduous climb. The moment you stand at the top, you savor the panoramic view and bask in the triumph of your journey. You allow yourself to relax for just a moment, knowing you’ll need your energy for the next stage.

In technical writing, publication is a similar moment. When you publish your document, it represents the summit of your successful journey through the Technical Writing Process. It’s a moment to be savored! It’s where your documents transition from being cost centers—consumers of resources and effort—to value adders, creating value for users and making all your efforts worthwhile.

This chapter will guide you through this transformative process, emphasizing the importance of the document lifecycle and effective publication practices. You’ll learn how to establish robust document control, ensuring that your documents are well-managed and compliant with industry standards. We’ll explore how to effectively secure approvals, ensuring that your document meets the necessary criteria before publication.

Additionally, this chapter addresses the critical steps of finalizing your document. This includes conducting thorough final checks and refining your document to perfection. We also emphasize the importance of clear and strategic communication with stakeholders, ensuring that the transition of your document from a draft to a published work is smooth and well received.

This chapter aims to equip you with the knowledge and tools to make publication a straightforward process, reflecting the success of your journey through the Technical Writing Process.

2. [Theory] What Is a Document?

Before we dive into the nuts and bolts of document control, let’s start by explaining some basic concepts. We’ll discuss what documents are and how they’re closely related to—but distinct from—records. This is a fundamental distinction in document control:

  • Documents are forward-looking pieces of information used to guide decision-making or describe what should be done. In technical writing, they typically provide task-oriented information that enables an internal or external audience to accomplish a goal.
  • Records are historical information, evidence of past activities and decisions. They serve as the organizational memory of what was done. They’re a static snapshot of something that happened in the past, and unlike documents, they usually don’t change.
What Does That Mean Icon What Does That Mean?
A discrete unit of information used to guide work, decisions, or judgment, serving as a guide to what should be done. Documents are forward-looking, as opposed to records, which are historical. Examples include technical documentation, plans, policies, and engineering drawings.

A discrete unit of information or collection of data that forms evidence of past activities or decisions, serving as a static memory of what was done. Records are historical, in contrast to documents, which are forward-looking. Examples include invoices, test results, and completed maintenance logs.

3. [Theory] Document Lifecycle

The document lifecycle constitutes the macro stages that all documents go through in their lifecycle.1 Think of it as encompassing the entire lifespan of a document: from metaphorical birth to death.

In the diagram below, we’ve created our own version of the document lifecycle, drawing on Kassa’s framework in Document Control: Lifecycle and the Governance Challenge.2 We’ve aligned the terminology more closely with ISO 9001, a key standard relating to document control, which we’ll discuss shortly.

What Does Each Stage Involve?

  1. Creation: In this stage, documents are born. They may exist initially as a sketch of a document outline on a notepad or as rough notes in an electronic file before progressing to a fully fleshed-out draft.
  2. Review and approval: This stage concerns the review of documents to ensure they’re accurate and fit for purpose, and to show that they’ve been endorsed for use by the appropriate authorizers within an organization.
  3. Distribution and use: This is where documents are used by internal or external users to accomplish a goal, such as carrying out a procedure or using a software application. Before this can occur, the documents must be controlled.
  4. Retention and disposal: In the final stage of their lifecycle, documents are reviewed for relevance according to an organization’s policies and disposed of if necessary, including the removal of any outdated copies.
What Does That Mean Icon What Does That Mean?
Document Lifecycle
The macro stages of a document as it progresses through its lifespan, from metaphorical birth to death, including creation, review and approval, distribution and use, retention, and disposal.
Insight Icon Insight
ISO 9001—The Elephant in the Document Control Room
When discussing document control, it’s hard to avoid the standard for quality management systems, ISO 9001. This international standard is widely used in many industries, particularly by companies bidding for government contracts. One of the processes defined in ISO 9001 is document control. Here, many of our document control principles are embodied as requirements, although in much less detail than our definitions. Our document control principles align closely with ISO 9001:2015, section 7.5—Documented Information.

4. [Theory] Document Control

Document control is the process of managing information through the phases of the document lifecycle. Although it doesn’t take much time to apply, it’s an incredibly important moment. It’s the mechanism that enables documents to be managed over their lifespan. Without effective document control, an organization’s information can quickly descend into chaos. This can cause problems such as defective products, inconsistent output, duplication of effort, customer complaints, costly calls to helpdesks that could have been diverted, and corruption of the organization’s institutional knowledge.

The key principles of document control are illustrated in the diagram below. These principles draw from the ISO 9001:2015 standard, which are explained in ISO 9001:2015 in Plain English,3 and general principles defined by Document Control: Lifecycle and the Governance Challenge.4

We’ve drawn on these sources to identify the principles that are your responsibility as the technical writer, which we explain in detail in this section. The others are (mostly) the responsibility of the document controller or knowledge manager—the roles accountable for maintaining the integrity of the overall document control system. These principles aren’t discussed in depth, as they’re beyond the scope of this book.

What Does That Mean Icon What Does That Mean?
Document Control
The process of managing documents through the phases of their lifecycle.

Controlled Document
A document that requires control throughout its lifecycle. It features a unique identifier and approval details. Using an incorrect version of this document could lead to quality, safety, or compliance issues.

4.1. Principle 1: Identification

What It Is: The unique identification of a document that distinguishes it from other documents.

This principle facilitates a single source of truth for documents, allowing for traceability back to the source document and the coordinated management of multiple versions. Identification is usually accomplished by an alphanumeric document identifier (ID) generated by a content management system. However, this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. It can be any unique aspect that allows you to differentiate between documents.5 The identifier should be clearly marked on the document to ensure traceability.

4.2. Principle 2: Format and Media

What It Is: Selection of the appropriate media (e.g., print, digital, or both) and format (e.g., web page, Adobe PDF file, Microsoft Word file, etc.) for a document.

This principle involves selecting the appropriate format and media for your audience. It includes integrating images to aid in usability and comprehension, and translating documents into a language suitable for your audience. This decision should have been made well before publication, as part of your planning and audience analysis. Your organization may already have well-defined guidelines and templates for the appropriate documentation format that you must follow. We discuss audience analysis in-depth in Chapter 11: Analyze Audience and translation in Part 9: Translate.

4.3. Principle 3: Review

What It Is: Review of a document by experts to ensure quality, accuracy, and suitability for use by the intended audience.

Review is an essential aspect of the document lifecycle and the Technical Writing Process. We discuss review extensively in Part 8: Review, so we won’t go into detail here, beyond this brief explanation.

What Does That Mean Icon What Does That Mean?
The process of evaluating a document against quality standards such as technical accuracy, consistency with style manuals, templates, branding, and so on.

An expert responsible for evaluating a document against quality standards such as technical accuracy, consistency with style manuals, templates, branding, and so on.

4.4. Principle 4: Approval

What It Is: Endorsement of a document for publication by approvers or document owners.

Approval is a cornerstone principle of document control. It’s the final step in the review process that indicates a document is fit for publication. For information on how to obtain approval, see Chapter 26: Publish | 6.2. Step 2: Obtain Approval.

What Does That Mean Icon What Does That Mean?
The formal acknowledgment or sign-off by an approver or document owner that a document is fit for publication.

An authorizing person within an organization who confirms that a document is fit for publication.

Document Owner
A manager or delegate responsible for ensuring a document is current and accurate.

4.5. Principle 5: Availability and Accessibility

What It Is: Ensuring documents are available and accessible to those who need to use them.

Documents need to be distributed to users in a location where they can easily locate and navigate to find the information they’re looking for. In technical writing, this is usually accomplished by uploading a document to the organization’s knowledge base or content management system and applying the correct metadata so that users (internal or external) can easily find them. Usually it’s the responsibility of the document controller or knowledge manager to oversee the content management system so that it’s accessible.

4.6. Principle 6: Classification and Categorization

What It Is: The categorization of documents according to your organization’s information taxonomy.

Documents can be categorized in myriad ways—by department, by topic, by product line, and so on. This allows documents to be easily discovered through search. This categorization is typically not visible on the document itself; it’s usually stored as metadata in a content management system. Sometimes, a document’s classification is visible on the document if it’s helpful for users to know.

What Does That Mean Icon What Does That Mean?
Data about data. For example, in digital photography, metadata captured alongside a digital image typically includes the date and time the photo was taken, the brand and model of the camera used, and the geographical location it was taken in.

4.7. Principle 7: Access Control

What It Is: Ensuring that only those who should have access to your document do.

This principle maintains the confidentiality of sensitive information and avoids improper use. Typically this is accomplished via the use of restricted areas within organizational knowledge bases accessible only to authorized users. It can also be accomplished manually using security classifications and document distribution matrices, ensuring that sensitive documents reach only their intended audience.

4.8. Principle 8: Version Control

What It Is: Identification of the correct version (or “revision status”) of your document.

This is an essential element of document control as it enables users to know if they are using the current version of a document. Often, but not always, version numbers are allocated automatically by content management systems. This number should be clearly marked on every document, alongside the alphanumeric identifier, to provide visibility and enable traceability. More details on versioning are discussed in Chapter 19: Write Draft | 4. [Theory] Version Control.

4.9. Principle 9: Change Control

What It Is: Identification of changes from one version of your document to the next.

This principle is especially important for internal documentation where users need to be able to view changes to documents so they can understand how to revise their work practices. For external documents, it’s more a matter of good housekeeping. It keeps writers and approvers abreast of the differences from one version to the next, who authored them, and the date they were approved and published. Changes won’t usually be visible on documents with an external audience, unless it has implications for how they conduct their work. Typically, change control and versioning are facilitated automatically via a content management system, which will automatically compare one version to another.

What Does That Mean Icon What Does That Mean?
Internal Documentation
Technical content for an organization’s internal audience, focusing on technical details, processes, and operational efficiency.

External Documentation
User-oriented content for customers and partners outside the organization, emphasizing ease of use, product understanding, and brand representation.

4.10. Principle 10: Information Protection

What It Is: Locking of finalized documents to prevent unauthorized changes.

Information protection often involves the publication of a document in a noneditable format, such as a web page only editable by authorized internal users, or the distribution of a secured digital version, such as an Adobe PDF file. Consult your organization’s document control policy to see what its expectations are.

5. [Practice] Publish Final Version

The publication of a final version occurs after you’ve completed the steps in the Technical Writing Process—Plan, Design, Write, Edit, and Review. By this stage, your documents should be highly polished, reviewed, technically accurate, and well formatted using your organization’s template or branding

5.1. Step 1: Establish Document Control

The first step in publication is to establish document control. For most documentation, that’s straightforward: ensure your document includes a document control table that’s ready to be populated with relevant data. If your organization employs a sophisticated content management system, document control might be integrated into the workflow to automatically establish version control and record details and dates of approvals. If you’re using a document control table and your organization lacks a standard template, we’ve created a Sample Document Control Table you can modify for your documents.

5.2. Step 2: Obtain Approval

Obtain a record of approval from approvers or document owners. To do so, you can send a Request for Approval via email or use the workflow functionality built into your organization’s content management system or help authoring tool. To help you craft a Request for Approval, we’ve supplied a Sample Request for Approval you can customize.

Insight Icon Insight
Always Keep a Record of Review and Approval
When you’re going through review and approval, it’s essential to keep records. Don’t ever rely on a verbal approval! Not only is this poor document control—and probably against your organization’s policies—it’s risky for your career. If something goes wrong and an error is found in your document, there’ll most likely be an investigation to trace the error back to the source. If it looks like you’ve allowed documents to be published without sufficient review and approval, that’ll reflect poorly on your technical writing skills and perhaps result in disciplinary action. If someone gives you verbal approval, follow it up with a request for written confirmation.

5.3. Step 3: Conduct Final Checks

Once your document has been approved, it really shouldn’t change much from this point on. In fact, some organizations have strict content management systems that won’t allow changes after approval without sending the document back to an unapproved state. This step is about giving your document a final once-over for any layout and formatting issues that may have cropped up between versions.

We suggest you use our Editing Checklist Template to perform final checks. You don’t need to do all the checks again, but we recommend you complete the Layout and Format Checking steps, and also conduct a quick proofread to ensure your document is as polished as possible. If your document will be distributed as a printed guide, refer to the Integrity Checking section in the template.

Insight Icon Insight
Use a Printout for a Fresh Perspective
It often helps to print a document, even if it’s only going to be published electronically (remember, your audience may want to print it out too). If you’ve gotten used to reading it on a screen, looking at a printed copy can give you a fresh perspective, enabling you to spot errors you may have overlooked.

5.4. Step 4: Publish Final Draft

Ensure your document has the correct classification and categorization metadata applied. If required by your organization’s policies, protect it from alteration. When you’re all set, upload and publish your document on your organization’s content management system or knowledge base, or follow the production steps defined by your organization for printed guides.

Tip Icon Tip
Protecting Files
Protection might be inherent in your organization’s publishing platform—for example, through an online platform that only authorized users can access. However, documents are often distributed as files. In these cases, protection might involve saving the document as a password-encrypted, noneditable version.

5.5. Step 5: Communicate with Stakeholders

Finally, once your document has been published, it’s good practice to follow up with a brief announcement, particularly if it’s an important document. This step might not always be required—for example, if notifications are built into your organization’s content management system or if it’s a routine document such as a work instruction that doesn’t need much fanfare.

Often a simple email to the relevant stakeholders will suffice. Consult your Documentation Plan for your list of stakeholders, and ensure you send it to those affected by the document’s publication, such as document owners and managers responsible for distributing new and updated documents to their teams. We’ve crafted a Sample Message to Stakeholders Announcing Publication you can customize.

6. [Sample] Sample Document Control Table

Sample Document Control Table

7. [Sample] Sample Request for Approval

Sample Request for Approval

8. [Sample] Sample Message to Stakeholders Announcing Publication

Sample Message to Stakeholders Announcing Publication

  1. Kassa, D. (2015). Document Control: Lifecycle and the Governance Challenge. Unknown Publisher. Kindle Edition, p. 29. ↩︎
  2. Kassa, D. (2015). Document Control: Lifecycle and the Governance Challenge. Unknown Publisher. Kindle Edition. ↩︎
  3. Cochran, C. (2015). ISO 9001:2015 in Plain English. Paton Professional. ↩︎
  4. Kassa, D. (2015). Document Control: Lifecycle and the Governance Challenge. Unknown Publisher. Kindle Edition. ↩︎
  5. Cochran, C. (2015). ISO 9001:2015 in Plain English. Paton Professional, p. 111. ↩︎
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