A Document Template Checklist

Published on Dec 23rd, 2011 by

A Document Template Checklist

When you’re streamlining a recurring  activity, templates are a great way of standardizing document layout and saving time. They’re also a very efficient way to confuse and bug people while looking really official for no particular reason … like the TPS reports from Office Space for instance.

The first thing I do is look for context when I’m asked to do a review, because people may ask for a document template but what they actually want is a business process model to be put in place. They hope the template will be clear enough to anyone to illustrate all the activity that surrounds it, this happens a lot.

A template helps but by itself it’s a very lousy way to communicate what needs to be done. A template is a tool, a work document that is easy to find and easy to use.

These are practical tips I give and the questions I ask people who want to create (hopefully not yet another) document template …

Practical template tips:

  • have an empty template and an archetype filled in as an example
  • use comments and annotations
  • focus on a bare minimum of topics
  • learn how to use document style sheets and use them well
  • save your document in a template format if your word processor supports this

Checklist questions:

  • What will you use the template for? Will you actually use it?
    • high level (concept) illustration?
    • definition of a baseline?
    • calculations?
    • keeping a kind of history?
    • reporting activities?
    • reporting status?
  • Who will be the main audience of the document?
    • who will be reading it most?
      • third parties, project teams, management?
      • how much detail does the audience need?
    • who will be filling in the template?
    • will it make sense to the audience or will they perceive it as red tape?
  • How will you store and maintain the document?
    • file the template away once it’s filled in, like a contract, or actively edited?
    • will it be kept on a shared drive, in the cloud, printed …?
    • does a revision history make sense?
    • will it contain confidential information?

Once you get the purpose and the audiences straight it will be a lot easier to decide what will need to go in the template.

Keeping it short and fairly high-level are key. Unless you have a really good reason don’t go into details or hopeful assumptions. Remember that you can always make a new version or add information in complimentary documents once the template is in use.

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