Previous blogs introduced the idea of using structured folders and file sharing to help employees find documents more efficiently. This blog addresses the structure within a suite of documents, which is essential to helping employees find needed information more expediently. Documents can be classified in numerous ways, with the various document types requiring different information; however, the more uniform the documents are, the easier it is to locate the information within them.
Think back to your grade school education. You may not realize it but your first lesson on the importance of document structure began here. It is likely that your teachers had everyone write their names in the same corner of the paper and possibly follow each name with other essential information such as the date or class period. High school took document structure even further as teachers reiterated the importance of having an introduction, middle, and conclusion to every written report. Professional, polished documents should be far more structured than school exercises because they are often referenced in the midst of serious situations. For example, suppose that a lead operator is temporarily working at a different facility from the one where he normally works when an alarm begins to sound. When the operator pulls out the facility’s operating procedures, will he or she recognize the structure and know where to find the needed information? Or will the operator waste valuable time trying to locate basic information because it is presented differently from the way it is presented at his usual facility? Standardizing all operating procedures with the same structure can save time—and in some cases, it can even save lives.
Adding structure to the different types of documents within a suite is also helpful. If a company is expanding a pipeline or adding more processing facilities, employees and contractors will use a suite of documents that includes specifications, procedures, and manuals. If every document is structured differently, the readers will be required to think about the type of document and then adjust their expectations for that specific type. To avoid this learning curve, you can help your readers by providing the same information in the same place in each document. You might have every document include sections in the same order, perhaps including an introduction followed by safety information, then acronym and term definitions, and finally the industry standards and regulations. This way, if someone is reading a Hot Oil System document and then needs to refer to an Air Instrument document, the information is easier to locate and compare.
Similarly structured documents are useful to employees of all levels—from new hires who need to learn new skills to seasoned veterans. When time is of the essence, standardized document structure becomes even more important—it can ultimately prevent expensive repairs to equipment or even the loss of a life.