Using Google Plus to Write Technical Documents

Maeve asks on LinkedIn how we can use Google Plus to write technical documents.

Well, the first consideration is that Google Plus is not designed as a tech authoring tool but for collaboration and ‘almost’ real-time information exchange. Saying that, it does offer many benefits if you need to plan/coordinate/review documents in a networked environment. Here are some ideas.

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Where Google Plus Can Help You Write Document

If you look at the lifecycle of a technical document, you can see that there are several phases where documents (and diagrams) get reviewed, approved, edited etc – nothing to do with the actual writing, but all related to getting the document over the finishing line.

Most of my work is spent on the web, coordinating projects, often in different time zones.

Google Plus helps me with the non-writing activities, such as planning, scheduling, reviews, brainstorming, sign-offs, usability testing, interface design, videos. Most project communications is done by email but why not do it with Google Plus instead? Why stick with email?

Let’s look at a few places in the document lifecycle where Google Plus might move things forward

  1. Business Case – Getting the business case completed is one of the first things I do way before we start any writing. How do we justify the expense/resources involved in writing this document? Is there a real need for this material? Writing the business case s Google Wave or Email? Email is fine but slow. Everyone has to respond (one by one) until you get final consensus. With Google Wave you can all pitch in and do it in a single session. Or, you can start the discussion, save the wave, and then come back to it. Try doing this with Outlook.
  2. Project Plan – we’ve started to use Google Wave when discussing resources, costs, and getting dates with Dev, HR, Testing Depts. Google Wave v Email v Intranet? I now use Google Docs to maintain the project plans (usually in Docs but also in spreadsheet format. It doesn’t always have to be in Excel.)
  3. Information Development Plan – this is the ‘project plan’ for documentation deliverables, e.g. which documents are, what file format do we need, estimated page count, start/end dates, team, technical resources. Again, this can be run through with the team and the project manager is one or more waves. Think of the time this saves v endless emails back and forth.
  4. Status Reports – you can link to the ‘active’ status report on the intranet/Google Docs and use Google Wave to provide more detailed information. For example, if risks are identified in the status report, other members of the wave can join in the conversation flow and explain the root cause, shedding further light when/where necessary.
  5. SMEs – instead of holding several workshops (or conf calls) setup a wave, get everyone online and explore the subject matter. Upload charts, diagrams, videos and whatever gets this reviewed in one sitting.
  6. Reviews – right now, most of these are done in Microsoft Word (and that’s fine up to a point). We’ve done some test runs with Google Wave and managed to get the docs reviewed, re-written, and signed off in, more or less, the same time as we’d do with Microsoft Word.

BUT, this was our first time using Google Plus. Once we get over the learning curve, we’ll be able to get the documents turned around faster.

Remember, you can add videos and graphics to the wave.

  • “What do you think of this user interface?”
  • “What’s wrong with the nav bar? I didn’t understand your email.”
  • “How can we change the workflow of this process?”

You get the idea.

When you can present text, video and graphics at the same time, then you can change the way you manage projects.

It doesn’t always have to be email. Status reports don’t have to be in Word. Give Zoho a spin. Reviews don’t have to be in Microsoft Word. Use Google Docs and see how you can use track changes and version controls.

Things to Consider

While Google Plus is not meant for technical writing it, try and see where/how it can speed up the overall documentation lifecycle, especially those areas where you need to connect with many people.

Use Google Plus to centralize these communications.

Emails tend to create information silos. Snippets you have to cut/paste into other documents (e.g. reports) so they have real value.

How will you use Google Plus?

We’ve touched the tip of the iceberg here. Where do you think it adds most value? How do you plan to use it to save time and speed up internal processes? And. what’s the real problem in getting people to start using it?

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