Document revision control involves many elements including but not limited to:
- Managing document versions
- Creating a standard folder directory structure
- Tracking changes between revisions
- Establishing part number and file naming conventions
- Managing many steps in the document creation and release workflow
For this blog post, and other blog posts in this series about revision control, I’m going to focus on a collection of documents such as technical manuals, marketing collateral or training materials.
It goes without saying that your life should be easier if you have a workable revision control system. There should be no more scratching your head trying to remember where you stored a document or wondering if you have the latest version. But beyond that, there are many other reasons to implement a revision control system such as to:
- Make sure the latest revision is available to your customers
- Don’t make revisions available that shouldn’t be
- Keep translated documents in sync with the English versions
- Track changes from revision to revision in case there are discrepancies in content or you have customer complaints
- Meet ISO 9001 standards
- Make it easier to collaborate with fellow writers
- Meet legal requirements such as record retention
Since there is so much to cover on the topic of revision control, I’ll start with managing document versions and creating a standard folder directory structure. I’ll cover additional topics in future blog posts, including one on version control features in Adobe FrameMaker, a popular authoring tool used for technical documents.
Using Version Control Software
Version control is the management of changes to documents, files or software. Using version control software (VCS) is a helpful way to automate version tracking. There are many different kinds of version control software, both open-source and proprietary.
One of the major benefits to using a VCS in the context of document version control is it prevents content from being overwritten by multiple users. With a check-in, check-out system, you can see if files are available to work on. If you store files in a file directory structure with no tracking mechanism, the odds are higher that content could be overwritten. You can also see the history of a document by looking at dates, authors and notes.
Another benefit of using a VCS is that you can look back at previous versions of a document. This can be really advantageous if multiple people are working on a single document or if an author that’s new to the document is going to write the next revision. In the case of software creation, in which developers are creating code, you can roll back the software to a previous version if a bug is found.
There’s no question as to where something is located and which version is the latest, which is especially helpful if you’re part of a global team with different working hours and regions.
If you don’t have a VCS, some document authoring programs offer tracking features and you can also create a manual system. I’ll talk about this in more detail in a future blog post on tracking changes between revisions.
Establishing a Folder Directory Structure
If you don’t use version control software, you’re probably saving files in a folder directories. It can be a little more challenging to manage files this way, but if you have a good system and follow it, you can be successful.
The two main things with managing files in a directory structure are establishing a good folder structure and standard folder naming conventions. And of course, training everyone on the team to follow the standards. The way you set up your folder structure will depend on your business, but in general, consider the following elements:
- Document types
- Product types, names and versions
- Language sets
- Internally vs. externally-facing documents
- Document naming conventions
Set up the structure with the largest categories of information at the top of the hierarchy and ending with project-specific folders. Within each project folder, you should also have a standard folder setup. For projects, consider things like:
- Reviewer comments
- Project information
- Meeting notes
- Previous versions
- Final draft
The naming convention for most of the items within each of these folders probably doesn’t matter too much, but you should have a naming convention for drafts and the final document, as well as a process for storing these documents. I’ll discuss this more in a future blog post.
If you establish a good folder directory structure and everyone follows it, hopefully you won’t have too many occurrences of not being able to find a file or the latest file.
Revision control involves many components such as managing version control and using version control software, and establishing a good folder structure and standard folder naming conventions. Look for future blog posts from me on revision control.
Resources for Content Strategy
You may gain further insight into content strategy, document localization, translations and related topics by reviewing previous blogs written by GPI: