Why Write Documents?

Some people seem to think that generating paper is a goal in itself, but the only good reason to write documents is to help you manage your business better. If it doesn’t help, you won’t use it and it will gather dust.

So how can documents help? Any time you find yourself doing the same thing over and over as a manager, saying the same things, explaining the same things, making the same decisions, following the same process – documents can help. They are mostly good for repeated actions or decisions; one-off events seldom need documents, although you may have a policy that says “bring all odd occurrences to the manager for a decision.” The exception is catastrophic events. Say you work with children: then you should have a procedure for how to deal with a missing child, even if you have never had a child go missing while in your care. It is easier to think through who will lead the search and how, and who will stay in touch with the parents, law enforcement, and media without the urgency of a missing child.

Don’t draft a document “because I should have one.” Start with questions: What is your goal? What are you trying to fix? Who is your audience? What level are they at and how much background and definitions will you need to include? What is the best way to communicate what you need? Sometimes it is words on paper; for visual content, pictures or flow charts might be better; for motion, video might work best; or it might be some combination. (Hint: the best option is almost never PowerPoint.)

Once you know exactly what you want to accomplish, then look for a template that will help you get there. Don’t just grab a template off the internet and follow it blindly – it may not be designed for the problem you are trying to fix or it may be designed for a much larger organization. Ask your local economic development resources or a well-run organization that is similar to yours but not a direct competitor so examples that you can use to get started. Modify any template so it reflects how you do things, not how you think you should do it; it will only be useful if it fits your organization.

Drafting documents thoughtfully takes more time up front but the result is something you can use to help you manage your business or nonprofit organization.