This blog was originally published in 2013; we have since updated it to reflect the most current and accurate information possible.
Documentation can feel like an extraneous task, and you may never need to look back over your paper trail.
However, if you are ever asked to show proof of a client or vendor contract, or interactions with your colleagues, documentation will certainly come in handy.
According to Tech Republic contributor Jack Wallen, “when it’s not there, the job can be an absolute nightmare.”
Keeping track and ensuring your records are complete is a little bit like professional integrity: you need to do it, even if no one is watching.
Check out our tips for better documentation, every day.
1. Use Consistent Formatting
If you’re preparing contracts or documents for internal training, simply opening a Word document and beginning to type won’t create the most professional effect.
Microsoft word style settings are your new best friend.
Wallen recommends having several go-to styles saved, and using these according to the task at hand, such as one for contracts, another for notes and one for training documents. The initial setup requires a time investment, but it provides an established template for better-looking documents throughout the future.
2. Save Documents as .PDF Files
It really only takes an extra second to save your documents as .PDF files, which are essentially photographs of the paper that can’t easily be modified by the end-user.
Many corporations consider it essential for anything legally-binding or otherwise serious, including disciplinary action and contracts.
It’s certainly a best practice for professional documentation in nearly any circumstance, and unless you’re asking someone to edit your work, it may be a prudent decision.
As an added bonus, the documents can open far more quickly for the end user, given the fact that they’re compatible with all operating systems. You’ll never need to run into re-sending a document again to someone who doesn’t have the latest version of Microsoft Word. Be sure and save the original document as a .doc file, too, so you can edit and resave as a .PDF if it’s ever needed.
3. Invest in Cloud Storage
The future of professional computing isn’t located on a single hard drive. It’s located in the cloud.
Many organizations are choosing against server-based storage, when can be unreliable and incredibly pricy.
Storage can be purchased on a subscription-basis from DropBox or Microsoft’s Cloud.
Even if your organization is still relying on older storage methods, invest in a personal subscription to DropBox or move towards using Google Drive.
Even if your personal work computer or servers are damaged or broken, you’ll still be able to access your documents in case of emergency.
4. Create a Good File Structure
Organizing files can be incredibly complex, particularly if you’re responsible for interactions with a large number of clients, vendors or colleagues.
Design a system for separating documents into files.
You should also name files so they’re easily accessible, by date and topic. Stick to it, and you’ll be glad if you ever need to retrieve something quickly.
5. Update Immediately
We’re all busy professionals. We know that waiting for something to update isn't always an option.
If you have a tendency to forget tasks or facts that aren’t written down, get into the habit of documenting completely and immediately.
If you’re seriously crunched for time, start a document and scribble down some notes. You can edit later.
Inaccuracies and missing documentation can be costly to your organization and personal success. Excellent professional documentation skills are an unsung member of a comprehensive skill set.