Friday, December 10, 2010

The Tribal Knowledge Project: Getting off the ground

When the VP of Mumble approached me about capturing the knowledge floating around in his technical support staffers' brains, I realized instantly that I knew what to call this kind of project. But for political reasons I don't dare call it what it is. So for now I'm not calling this project a knowledge base; I'm calling it the Tribal Knowledge Project. The phrase seems to resonate with the people involved.

I laid out to the team my view of how the project should work:
  • We need to think of this as a pilot project. If it works well, there will be others like it - just not back-to-back.
  • Scope needs to be tightly controlled; we shouldn't try to address more than about 25 technical issues.
  • I'm not going to do the writing. The subject-matter experts will do that, because they're the ones who know the material.
  • Nobody will be asked to document more than three technical issues.
  • Nobody will be asked to document more than one thing in any work week.
  • We'll meet for half an hour, once a week. Meetings start and end on time.
  • I don't want the project to run past the end of January.
People seemed relieved that I put so much emphasis on keeping the project from becoming a huge time-suck. Hey, we're all busy, and if we don't respect each others' schedules, we'll end up not respecting each other. We can't afford that.

At last week's meeting, I asked project team members what kinds of things they thought it would be important to document. The consensus was that we have lots of information about how to do things, but virtually no guidance on how to choose the right thing to do. We needed to capture the sequence of questions and decisions that allow a technical specialist to solve a customer's problem quickly.

I know the name for that: Troubleshooting. It's the part that gets left out of most documentation, because it's hard.

Somebody used the phrase "decision tree", and someone else mentioned that some people have flowcharts that they stick on the wall by the phone. I don't know about you, but I like flowcharts. It's often easier to diagram a sequence of decisions than to describe it in sentences.

I asked the team: Would flowcharts be a better way to capture this information than writing it out?
The consensus was that yes, flowcharts would be the best way to represent the information.
Does everyone have access to a tool that you can use to make flowcharts?
Yes, we've got Visio.
Is everyone comfortable creating flowcharts?
That was last week's big "Aha!" - I hope it was as exhilarating for everyone else as it was for me.

Well, all righty then. We're off in a completely unanticipated direction, but that is OK. This can only work as a collaborative project, and the collaboration goes away the instant someone starts telling everyone else how they ought to do it. The wisdom of the crowd says that the way to capture the really valuable product knowledge is to make troubleshooting flowcharts. The VP of Mumble was surprised when I told him about this, but after he had some time to think about it, he agreed that we're going in the right direction.

I asked people to nominate three technical issues that need to be documented - they might be things that come up a lot, or that are very difficult to explain to new people, or that hardly anyone knows how to handle. We used a document in Clearspace (the collaboration tool available to everyone in the company) to capture the technical issues to be documented.

This morning we had a list of 26 suggestions. This afternoon we met to talk about them. We started by categorizing them, and people sometimes popped off the questions that customers would ask - in layman's language - that pointed to the topic under discussion. One of the managers said that we need to include the customers' questions in each topic, and we realized that we needed to take that thought a step further: Customers' questions, in layman's language, need to be our starting-points. When our people field the phone calls, they need to be able to look up a customer's question and link to the right troubleshooting topic.
That was this week's big "Aha!"

It's becoming a very exciting project. Not only do I have the rare privilege of watching a bunch of very smart people as they discover how information works, I get to learn from them and with them!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Wisdom of the Crowd: Prologue

A few months back, I hired on at BlobCo. I knew immediately that I was in for a wild ride, because so many people expressed so much delight that I had signed on. (This would relate to biting off more than you can chew.) If you're a technical writer and everybody's glad to see you before they even know about your chocolate chip cookies, it's a bad sign. But now I've been there long enough that people know about the cookies. Long enough to have delivered my first big project, too; and now, long enough that people are starting to ask about other things they imagine I might do.

A couple weeks ago, the VP of Mumble came to me with a new request: BlobCo has a great team of technical people working with our customers, keeping the customers' websites and software working right. But it takes months to learn the ins and outs of figuring out what's going on when a customer's site starts misbehaving, and there's been enough turnover that the VP was very concerned about the loss of brainpower. He asked me to start a project to capture all that valuable information before it walked out the door. I told him he'd have to negotiate with my VP, but I'd say yes if my boss said yes.

The boss was sitting a couple cubicles over, so I hollered his name. "Yes?" he answered. Talk about your comedy set-up - I couldn't ask for better. "Well, there you go. That sounded like Yes to me."

I did actually give the boss a run-down on the situation. He was concerned about how much of my time it would take, so I told him how I planned to work it in:
I'm not going to do the writing.
The people who know the material will do the writing.
I'll manage the project, help them as needed, and let them know what fabulous people they are. I'll figure out how to stitch it all together and make it easy to find and to use.
But I'm not going to write the darn thing.

The boss said yes for real, once he understood the problem and the approach I planned to take in solving it. I went back to the VP of Mumble to talk through the strategy and agree on a list of the people who should be involved.

I'm not going to write this, I told him. I'll need your help no matter how we do this project, and here's what I think will allow me to keep it manageable:
  • Let's have the experts each write the bits they know best.
  • Each participant should nominate three things to include in the project.
  • Everyone's very busy, so let's not ask them to do a lot in any given week.
  • Let's not tackle everything people know how to troubleshoot - just the really hot items.
  • Let's not ask anyone to write more than three short pieces.
  • Let's hold the project to two months.
The VP of Mumble seemed very happy with all this. We called a meeting to kick off the project.

I know that asking technical staff to write stuff is like pulling teeth, so I used the same trick that the dentist used when I was a little kid: Toys. At the kick-off meeting, I slammed through my talking points, asked for questions (there weren't any), and then emptied a shopping bag full of toys on the conference table. Everybody had been silent through the meeting, but the toys broke the ice. People started asking good questions, cautiously voicing approval for the idea of the project and exploring the "how".

Rubber duckies, Gumby figurines, prismatic "robot glasses", wind-up toys...these got the conversation started. I'm going to need to do more than just hand out toys, though, because I have no formal authority. These people are my peers. I can't compel their participation. I must earn that, along with their respect. One of my top priorities will be to make sure that all the project participants get full credit for their expertise - because that's what keeps BlobCo successful.

Over the years, I have learned that when I don't have prior experience to guide me, the best thing I can do is tell the truth about that. So I've let everyone know that I haven't done a project like this before. (Now I can go ahead and freak out - people will understand.) But I have a plan; so we're further along on this than BlobCo has ever gotten before.

We're only a few days into the project, so I don't yet know how it's going to turn out. Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Table manners and project management

Have you ever bitten off more than you could chew? That was my parents’ favorite metaphor for taking on a bigger task than you’d be able to finish.

When I was about ten years old, I learned what that meant – the hard way. My little brother and I were misbehaving at the dinner table, walking the line between what would earn us a scowl and what would earn us a beating. We had made up a game: Demonstrate what not to do at table. I decided I could win the game by taking a gigantic bite. I put half a slice of bread in my mouth all at once. My father glared down the table at me. “THAT was a piggish bite,” he said.

I was unable to answer. My mouth was so full, I could not bring my jaws together without having food come out of my mouth; and if that happened, I’d get the beating of my life.

I’d bitten off more than I could chew.

I knew my father would not let me excuse myself to go spit it out. I had to swallow it somehow.
What was I going to do?
  • I did not want a beating, so food must not come out of my mouth.
  • Food must not choke me to death.
  • The solution had to be implemented before bed time.
Those were the requirements, in order of priority.

I found I could work my jaws a little bit. Carefully, I began to chew. I swallowed a tiny bit. Chewing got easier. I swallowed a little more. Finally I was able to get through the entire wad of bread.

Since then I’ve made a habit of taking small bites when I eat. I still sometimes realize I've bitten off more than I can chew at work, though. Many of us do. Business realities mean there's often more work than people to do it. Partly this is my own reality; I choose to work for organizations that fit a certain profile, and the day I sign on, I've bitten off more than I can chew. I know this about myself. It's become a repeatable process for me:
  1. Realize I’m in trouble. (Can't chew!)
  2. Identify and prioritize the requirements for a good outcome. (How am I going to get through this?)
  3. Identify the actions that will fulfill the requirements. (Maybe I can chew a little.)
  4. Work through the list of priorities in order. (OK, this is working.)
  5. Deliver what I’ve got when the deadline arrives. (Done!)
The solution doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to meet the requirements that everyone agrees are the most important. I can do that every time. The key is to follow those five simple steps. I allow myself that moment of panic in the first step, and then get to work solving the problem.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Seven Habits of Highly Defective Technical Writers

If you want to be a Highly Defective Technical Writer, you need to learn industry worst practices. Here are seven to get you started.

  1. People who read help are stupid. People who write help are smart. Don't ever forget that, and don't ever let your readers forget it.

  2. Complexity of grammatical construction correlates in a positive manner with the perception of intelligence; thus it is advisable under all circumstances to endeavor to utilize sentence structures and locutions commensurate with the level of one's own education.

  3. It is considered presumptuous to address readers as if they were present. Passive voice is preferred.

  4. When documenting software that allows you to create, change, or delete something - your contact information, for example - write a separate topic for each task. It's far too confusing to provide instructions for more than one task in a single topic, or to write steps that involve choices (such as "If you need to add a new telephone number, click Add Number. If you need to change a number, edit it in the text box"). Remember, your readers are stupid.

  5. Take every opportunity to continue selling your product. Remind users how attractive it is, how sleek its design and stylish its colors. Remind them how intuitive and easy it is to use.

  6. People open the help when they are scared of making a mistake. When presenting a task, point out how easy it is. When you get to the step where people tend to go wrong, tell them it's really simple. People like to be reassured that they are smart enough to get it right. Remember, they're stupid.

  7. Don't bother with teh spelling checker. It's for careless people who either can't type very well or are too ingorant to spell well. Your smarter than that.
When you've mastered these worst practices, you'll be well on the way to being a Highly Defective Technical Writer.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

To blog or not to blog

A colleague remarked on Twitter that he's thought about blogging, but didn't feel that he had anything of value to say. I started thinking about why I follow him on Twitter: Because he's the sort of person I'd want to hang out with if we lived near each other - insightful, funny, and obviously passionate about his work. His tweets are always worth reading. I can learn from him, be inspired by him, and enjoy his wit.

And this man doesn't think he has anything to offer on a blog, so he hasn't been blogging.

One of the other threads that day was to do with the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which for years I'd been calling "meta-cluelessness" - the idea that some people lack the information or skill to discern that they lack information or skill.

My colleague seemed to be exhibiting the flip side of this effect: Highly capable people tend to underestimate their own skills and knowledge quite consistently, assuming that everyone knows at least as much as they do. If you've been doing a thing for a long time, and have quietly become an expert at it, you may take for granted what you know about it. You may assume that, since you've managed to learn how to knit socks, or rebuild engines, or write help that keeps customers from making tech support calls unless something actually breaks, surely everybody else in the entire world must know how by now.

But you're wrong. Lots of people don't know what you know. If you talk or write about it, some of those people will pay attention. Some of them will find your style engaging, and will want to learn from you. You'll enjoy getting to know some of them through their comments. You'll learn from some of them.

What are you waiting for? Your fans are looking for you. Start writing!

Monday, February 8, 2010

What happens next?

I am a busybody. I am a Nosey Parker. I can’t help it.
No, I am not interested in who goes to lunch with whom, or who takes advantage of the privacy afforded by the server room. I’m intensely interested in what happens next.

When you finish doing your little piece of the great process of keeping your organization going, who receives your work when you hand it off? What happens next?

When I went to work at a company I'll call MumbleCo, I found that none of the writers knew how their work got from their desks to our customers. Not even the manager knew the release process.

Any time you don’t know what happens next after you do your part of a business process, you’re automatically looking at a broken process. In an organization, the thing you deliver is the input to the next person’s part of the process, and as any programmer will tell you, GIGO – garbage in, garbage out. If you don’t know the next person’s part, how do you know you’re not providing garbage input?

The cure for a broken process may be as simple as finding the person who handles the next part and having a conversation about how the process works now, how it would work in the ideal case, and what causes problems.

At MumbleCo, all the manager could tell me about the release process was “We hand it off to someone in operations.” I went to the operations group and introduced myself to the manufacturing engineers, logistics planners, and the change control team, and asked questions about how they worked. How could we writers help to keep them from having to do extra work? They offered very specific observations:
  • Nobody used the right process for getting part numbers.
  • It was hard to draw up the release paperwork for a manual because writers didn't provide enough information in their emails and the file names were all over the map; the change control team usually had to open the file to find out the manual title and the product line to which it belonged.
  • Sometimes we sent them files that they couldn’t even open.
I took this back to my manager. She recognized the value of aligning what we did with what Operations needed, and put me in charge of designing and implementing a release readiness process to include assigning document numbers, setting a file naming convention, and checking finished manuals against a production readiness checklist. The other writers complained about the new process – “Why can’t I just give it the next part number? Why should I have to let you check it? I'm a senior writer! We never had to do this before!” – but the operations team knew who to contact if there were problems, and document release went from a two-week process to a two-day process.

This change didn’t require a decision at the director level, a six-month study, or a task force. It took one writer, in a non-supervisory role, walking to the other side of the building and having a series of conversations with the people whose days she could make or ruin simply by how she did her job.

Do you participate in a broken process? When you finish your piece, what happens next? If you don’t know, go find out. Fixing a broken process starts with a conversation.

Monday, February 1, 2010

How to develop X-ray vision

Standard prerequisites for superheroes include being faster than a speeding bullet, being able to leap over tall buildings at a single bound, and being more powerful than a speeding locomotive. We’ve talked about how technical writers can meet all those qualifications. But real superheroes have X-ray vision, too.

Have you ever looked at a web site, picked up a brochure, or read a manual – and spotted a really dumb mistake? Quick show of hands - who hasn’t? I didn’t expect to see any hands up, and you didn’t disappoint me. Wouldn't you like to hang this AWARD OF EXCELLANCE in the entryway to your business?

After you look at the material long enough, you lose the ability to see your own mistakes. We know this. Quality checks help us see things we would miss otherwise, so that we never publish material that embarrasses the organization.

Things to check include:
  • Formatting – if you control the formatting in the final deliverable, include separate checks for every aspect of this: font usage, text size and spacing, placement of graphics, headers and footers in print-oriented material…you can probably come up with a full page of format checks.
  • Spelling, grammar, and punctuation – did you run a spelling check? Has someone read it through for grammar and punctuation? We are better at grammar checking than automated grammar checkers are, especially if the material is specialized technical information.
  • Table of contents – is it complete and accurate? Was it generated after everything else was done?
  • Index or search – you have this, don’t you?
  • Parallelism in headings – If one topic is called “Creating accounts”, don’t call the next one “How to delete accounts.” Again, we know this. But if you collaborate with others on a work, or if you start a new topic without reviewing other topic headings, it’s easy to end up with headings that don’t follow consistent grammatical structures.
  • Consistent grammatical structure in the text – for example, “To [start a task], click [button or link name].” If your work gets translated, this cuts the cost.
  • Conformance to your organization’s style guide – you have one, don’t you? If not, start one right now. Start with an item about using consistent grammatical structures.
  • Conformance to your organization’s identity standards – check for proper use and placement of the logo, correct color formulations, and whatnot.
  • Links and email addresses – don’t trust them; test them.
  • Conformance to file naming conventions – you have those, don’t you? Consistent file naming helps you find things later on, particularly if you use a version control system. Make file naming a part of your quality checklist so you can enforce it.
If you check your work against your quality checklist before you publish it, you’ll have the X-ray vision to catch things nobody else has spotted in earlier checks, and you’ll always publish material that shows your organization in its best light.

A tip of the hat to Thomas Moore of StorSpeed, who shared his checklist with me ten years ago. The man’s had X-ray vision as long as I’ve known him.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tactics for being more powerful than a speeding locomotive

We’ve been talking about how to be a technical writing superhero – get the right information to the right people in the right way; be able to show your management that your project is on track. But if you’ve ever waited for a train that was late, you know that on track isn’t the same as on time.

Time management means being able to say no. Whenever someone comes running to you saying “I need your help,” it’s automatically an emergency. You’re a team player, so you may say “Sure, I can help you with that” without thinking.
That emergency has the momentum of a speeding locomotive, and it will derail you if you’re not strong enough to stand against it. Is it really is more important and urgent than your project? Are you really the only one who can do it? Estimate what it will do to your schedule. If you aren’t completely in charge of your assignment list, ask your manager to make the decision. You don’t take the blame for schedule changes when your boss is in charge of signaling and switching the tracks. If you work on the emergency project, notify the rest of the project team – don’t wait for your boss to do it.

Speaking of locomotives, training can also derail you. My own time management epiphany came when I went to the office to put in a few hours after a full-day seminar at a nearby hotel. Then it hit me: “I just piddled away an entire DAY on a time management seminar that my boss sent me to, and my deadline’s Friday.” I think I bent the needle on my irony-meter. My boss (evil man!) smiled knowingly when I confronted him the next day and asked him never again to schedule me for training near a deadline.

Less obvious but more common is the failure to prioritize tasks. How many times have you worked on a diagram, tweaking and tuning and rearranging until you realize you’ve spent half a day on a picture that only reinforces existing text? Was that critical to the project? Hardly.

Remember the project spreadsheet I described in the last post? It prevents train wrecks. With two more columns, it becomes the train schedule. On your master list of information changes, add a column for prioritizing each item and a column showing anything that blocks you from getting it done. (Yes, it’s getting to be a great big spreadsheet with lots of columns. Hide the ones you’re not using at any given time.) Now you’ve got a system. Whatever you’re working on, you should be done with all the higher-priority items except those on which you’re blocked.

To review: your spreadsheet includes a master list of changes, with separate tabs to show the changes to each of your deliverables. Columns on these tabs are:
  • Information change
  • Work required
  • Priority
  • Blockers
  • Subject matter expert
  • Questions
  • Date completed
  • Date sent to review
  • Date corrections received
With your spreadsheet superpowers, you’ll be able to stand firm against other people’s speeding locomotives and avoid derailing yourself.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tactics for leaping over tall buildings

We've talked about how you, the superhero technical writer, can be faster than a speeding bullet through effective audience analysis and information design. “Sure you’re faster than a speeding bullet,” says the boss, “but what else can you do?” It’s time to leap over a tall building or two.

Leaping over tall buildings would be easier if we had a Shrink-o-Matic ray that scaled the buildings down to the size of things made with Lego® blocks. So let's build one, and let your boss keep thinking of you as a superhero. Key components of the Shrink-o-Matic ray gun: Project management and technical review management.

How do you keep track of project requirements? How do you stay informed of all the new features under development? How do you determine what parts of the documentation are affected by each change or new feature? How do you ensure the material is updated?

Start with a project plan that shows the reason for the project (such as a new software release), the schedule, your subject-matter experts and other project stakeholders, your deliverables and the scope of changes to them, your assumptions, and possible risks. Distribute this to all the project stakeholders. Publish it on your intranet. Update it weekly.

When your first draft of the project plan is done, start building your project tracking spreadsheet. Include each new or modified product feature on its own row. Identify which subject-matter expert owns each feature and which of your deliverables will cover it.

Create additional tabs in the spreadsheet file, one for each of your deliverables. For each one, pop in the topic outline that you created in the design phase – one row per topic. Start with these columns:
  • Topic - this is the first or second column, depending on whether you want to show the topics by chapter or help book.
  • Work required – specifies whether the topic is to be created, updated, or left alone.
  • Subject-matter expert – who owns this information?
  • Questions – anything you need the subject-matter expert to answer; any unresolved issues.
  • Blockers – anything outside of your control that's keeping you from finishing the topic.
  • Updated – check off each topic as you finish it.
As the project moves along, you can use the Questions column to create lists of questions for each subject-matter expert, so you can schedule short appointments with each of them to get the information you need.

When you encounter a blocker, bring it up in the next project meeting if it's not a well-known situation already - and mention it even if it is well-known. For example, "I still have a couple topics on feature X, which hasn't been coded yet, so I'm dealing with other features that are further along."

Now here’s the power-booster for your Shrink-o-Matic ray. For each deliverable, add two more tabs:
  • To review - the date when you hand the topic to the subject-matter expert who owns it.
  • Corrections received - the date that you get the topic back with corrections.
If you send out a whole manual to a whole team for review, they’ll hate you – and they won’t review it thoroughly. If you send topics out one at a time, as you complete them, and send each topic only to the developer who knows it best, you may get corrections back the same day. What’s more, there won’t be a big review backlog near the end of the project. Your organization may not be agile, but there’s no reason you can’t be. Working this way shrinks those tall buildings to something you can leap over, with your superhero cape billowing behind you quite convincingly.

A tip of the hat goes to John Hedtke, who introduced me to a stripped-down version of project management by spreadsheet several years ago.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tactics for being faster than a speeding bullet

In my last post, I described a situation in which one technical writer (yours truly) delivered a huge volume of customer information every four months and made it look easy. What did it take to be a superhero?
  • Audience analysis
  • Information design
  • Project management
  • Review management
  • Time management
  • Quality checks
Let’s talk about the first two tactical considerations – audience analysis and design.

Who are your customers?
What do they need to know?
What do they already know?
Do they know more than you do?
How can you make them happier with your organization than they are now?
Who are your competitors and what can you learn from them?
You can’t make rational choices about how to select, organize, and present information unless you know who will receive it and how they will use it. This is bedrock basic technical writing theory, and some writers still ignore it. Don’t. If you skip the audience analysis, you’ll do extra work and you won’t have time to outrun that speeding bullet. You’ll also fail to deliver what your customers need. They’ll call technical support to ask questions that start with “How do I…?” If you let that happen, the aforementioned speeding bullet will come from the help desk.

Information design flows naturally from knowing your audiences and understanding what they need. If you write about a product that people use in different ways depending on their roles, you know to segment the information based on roles. The person checking their own work into and out of a repository doesn’t need to know how to do database administration. Chronology may also provide a good criterion for sorting information: for hardware, you’ll often need an installation guide. Anything that happens after it’s installed can be documented somewhere else. How do you decide where? Try an outline. It’s old-fashioned but it works. Start by throwing everything you can think of into one outline; you can decide later how finely you need to slice and dice it up into manuals, tip sheets, tutorials, and whatnot.

When you start with an outline, things are packaged into tidy little headings. It’s orderly, with clear boundaries, almost like a coloring book. Why not keep it that way? Think and write in topics rather than sections. What’s the difference? Sections can ramble and sprawl sometimes, because they may start with one topic and digress to another. A topic is everything you need to know in one context about one thing – for example, how to change your password. It stays focused, and you only write it once. When it’s time to update the information, you can quickly identify which topics are affected, and leave the rest alone. When you don’t have to go through every word, updates are a lot faster – maybe even faster than a speeding bullet.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Faster than a speeding bullet

Two products that work together, customer information delivered on a CD as printable manuals and HTML help branded for the company and unbranded for its OEM partners, a four-month software development cycle, one technical writer.

One technical writer who does not pull late-nighters or work from home on weekends. One technical writer who meets deadlines and wins awards for the material.

How does that work?

Pretty well. Thanks for asking.
It’s all about strategy and tactics. The strategy is pretty simple: Do only the things that move you forward, but do whatever it takes to keep moving. The tactics are familiar, in principle at least, to most technical writers:
  • Audience analysis – who are your customers? What do they need to know? How do they find out now, and how would they like to find out?
  • Design from meta to micro – what are your largest units of documentation, and how do you decide what belongs in each one? What are your smallest units? How do you assemble the small units into the big units? How do you integrate new pieces of information? How do you make sure you'll never be caught flat-footed by a new requirement, such as translation?
  • Project management – how do you keep track of all the project requirements? How do you ensure that you are aware of all the new features under development? How do you determine what parts of the documentation are affected by each change or new feature? How do you ensure all the material is updated?
  • Time management – how do you make sure the important things get done and the project stays on schedule?
  • Technical review management – how do you persuade your technical experts to give up some of their precious time to check your work? How do you ensure they’ll be willing to do it again?
  • Quality checks – how do you make sure that you publish material that won’t embarrass the organization?
Tune in next week for some answers.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Check your work

Think back to grade school. Think back to math tests. Remember what the teacher said at the start of every exam? "Check your work." The teacher knew that although you may know the heck out of long division or fractions, it's still easy to make really dumb mistakes - and the dumber the mistake, the easier it is to make. Worse, the smarter students are more confident of their ability to do error-free work, so they're less likely to catch their own really dumb mistakes. Sad but true: In my fifth-grade class, the class brain misspelled his own name on an exam. The teacher docked him three points for it, so he scored 97%.

We don't magically get over this when we finish school. What was true in grade school is still true, and it's more complex in the workplace because we aren't just answerable to ourselves; we rely on other people to do their work accurately, too.

You should be able to trust your teammates, but we all make mistakes. You won't make any friends by compulsively checking everyone else's work - and you'll run out of time to do your own work if you try - but if your organization doesn't already have a formal mechanism in place, you can set an example by asking your teammates to check your own work. "Do you mind checking this section for accuracy? If you like, I'll check whatever you have ready while you're looking at my material."

A couple things seem to cause a lot of trouble in technical writing and marketing collateral: company URLs and email addresses. I have seen far too many tech-savvy businesses (including IT service providers and multinational telecoms companies) publish contact email addresses that did not exist on their mail servers. They instructed their customers to contact them via email addresses that returned error messages. How smart would that make your company look? Although the warranty card may have always included the email address and the URL, that doesn't necessarily mean they work.

Take a few seconds to see what happens when you follow that link. Take a few seconds to send a test message to that email address, with an explanation and request for reply. Check your work.