Neat and tidy About 10 years ago, I was hired by a small software company as its sole technical writer. When I stepped into the role, I found that the documentation was a mess. Several versions of the manual were scattered across my predecessor’s hard drive. It wasn’t obvious which version was which, and files were both missing and badly named.

I learned later why the project was in such a mess: the previous writer left the company after giving just two days notice. Yes, that’s the level of professionalism I was faced with from my predecessor.

It took me several days to figure out what was what, and where it was. Happy wasn’t a word that could be used to describe me that particular week.

Not every writer focuses solely on penning work for publication. A number of our brethren and sistren spend their days writing in the corporate world. No matter what type of corporate writing you do, regardless of whether you’re a full timer or a contractor, you’ll eventually part ways with an employer. Voluntarily, I hope. When you step out the door for the last time, what will you leave in your wake? A mess, or a way for your co-workers or replacement to quickly pick up where you left off?

I’d hope the latter. Here are a few tips on how.

Why should you care?

Not every parting is going to be sweet sorrow. There will be jobs and gigs that you’ll want to escape. The sooner, the better. But leaving a project in a state of chaos is, at worst, petty and unprofessional. At best, it’s just plain lazy.

Making things easier for your co-workers or replacement is a matter of professionalism. Remember that the writing community (especially in the corporate sphere) is relatively small. You don’t know who knows who. Eventually, talk of bad behaviour could get back to you. That can work against you when you apply for another job or gig.

What you can do

There are a few things:

  1. Make sure that the latest files for your projects are in an easily-accessible location on the company or client’s network, or in their content management system (if they use one). Don’t leave them on your computer. Why? Often, a computer’s hard drive gets wiped when someone leaves. Your worked will get wiped with it.
  2. Keep the directories organized, and make sure those folders have descriptive names. A folder named Draft 1 doesn’t help people understand what’s in that folder.
  3. Ensure that the files for your project(s) are descriptively named as well. Again, Draft 1.docx isn’t a very good file name.
  4. Leave a page or three of instructions, outlining where to find files, at what stage each file is in the writing process, and where to find additional information. Also identify any subject matter experts or external resources you’ve been working with.

All of that is simple, and fairly basic, advice. Believe me, it goes a long way.

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