TLIE3004 – Plan workplace document Copy

TLIE3004 – Plan workplace document Copy

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Element 1: Plan workplace document

1.1 – Purpose and audience for document are identified

By the end of this chapter, the learner will be able to:

  • Identify the key purposes of workplace documentation
  • Identify the different types of documents in use in an organisation
  • List the steps required to prepare a workplace document
  • Identify the purpose of a document
  • Recognise key factors associated with the document’s readers.

Workplace Documentation

All workplaces use documents to record their business activities and the transport and logistics industry is no exception.   Workplace documents can serve a number of different purposes.

These may include:

To satisfy legal requirements

To comply with company policies and procedures

To enable decisions and actions to be recorded for later review and analysis

To enable the tracking of data (e.g. Performance data, fuel use, delivery schedules, etc.)

To enable the provision of information to customers

To provide information to aid decision making, etc.

It is important to know what documents are in place in your workplace and how and when they should be completed.

There is a saying that if it isn’t recorded, it didn’t happen.  This may sound harsh; however, when investigating an accident or incident, investigators need to review a wide range of documents in order to work out what actually happened and what led up to the incident.  In the event of a customer complaint about slow delivery, administrators need to be able to investigate the status of that order and track its progress.   If a manager is making a decision about changing a policy or procedure, they need to base that decision on reliable and sound information.  So documents are important for a wide range of reasons.

Types of documents

The range of documents in use in the industry is vast and the particular documents in use in one workplace will very probably be different from those used in another.  Whilst there are legal requirements to be met with regards to the information which all companies in the industry should record, how each individual company complies with the legislation will vary from one organisation to another.

However, there are some commonly-used types of documents which are likely to be in use in any organisation.

The common types of documents include:

  • Routine reports on:
    • workplace activities
    • incidents
    • meeting outcomes, etc.
  • Forms and records which include details of:
    • quality assessments
    • fuel use
    • vehicle maintenance checks
    • goods identification numbers and codes
    • manifests
    • picking slips
    • delivery schedules
    • incident reports etc.

The methods by which documents are completed and stored will again vary depending on the policies and procedures of the organisation, and also the availability of equipment.

Generally, documents are completed and stored using the following methods:

Electronic data interchange (EDI)

Email

Fax

Intranet/internet

Written communications.

Increasingly, documents are completed in a digital format and are only ever accessed and used electronically.

Preparing a workplace document

When preparing a workplace document, it is necessary to work through a series of logical steps.

These steps are:

Identify the purpose of the document

Identify the reader who will use the document

Decide which format is most appropriate for the document

Identify what information is required

Draft the document

Ensure procedures are followed correctly

Ensure correct use of grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.

Edit the draft document

Present the final version of the document.

This guide will work through all of these steps in turn, but in this section, we will concentrate on the first two steps only:

Identify the purpose of the document

Identify the reader who will use the document.

Identify the purpose of the document

It is essential to know the purpose of the document as this informs every other step in producing a document.  As stated earlier, there are several different purposes for a document.  When you are preparing a document, it is essential to consider its purpose.

For example:

  • Is it a legal requirement to prepare this document?
  • Does it comply with a company policy or procedure?
  • Is it to be used to help others to make a decision?
  • Is it to be used to track performance or progress, etc.?
  • Is it to be used to help solve a problem or a complaint, etc.?

The purpose of the document helps to define the format to be used, the type of language used, the level of formality, whether or not signatures are required, etc.

For example, a record of employees who have completed vehicle maintenance training could be presented in a number of different formats.

Different formats may include:

  • A company form with the company logo, a list of attendees’ names, the trainer’s name, date and location of training, signatures, etc.
  • An extract from the supervisor’s diary with a handwritten list of attendees
  • A letter from the training company listing attendees and training dates/locations, etc.
  • An email to attendees requesting their attendance at the training, etc.

These examples vary in their level of formality and the amount of detail.  The amount of detail required would depend on the purpose of the document.  If it is a requirement to record those employees who have completed this training for example, then the first option is the most comprehensive although the letter from the training company is also a good option.  In the event of an accident or incident in which it was necessary to verify if employee A had completed the vehicle maintenance training, it is unlikely that the email or diary extract would be enough to prove that they had, in fact, completed the training.

In a different scenario, a manager asks an administrator to produce a brief report of outstanding vehicle maintenance tasks for the fleet.  In their brief to the administrator, the manager makes it clear that they only need a list of the maintenance tasks and not a full report on the condition of every vehicle as they want to use that information in a meeting with the vehicle maintenance supervisor.  In this case, it may be acceptable to present a handwritten list as opposed to a fully comprehensive report.

The purpose of the document should define all other decisions about how the document is presented and what it should include.

Identify the reader who will use the document

Understanding who the document is for is very important in the planning stage.  A document written for an experienced colleague may be very different from a document written for an external supplier, for example.  There are a number of factors about the reader which should be taken into account when preparing a document.

These factors include:

Factors about the reader Implications for the writer
Who are the readers?

Ø  Internal/external people?

Ø  Job role/level of seniority?

Different language will be appropriate for different readers.  Internal colleagues will probably be used to a certain degree of jargon and acronyms for example, whereas this may make the document meaningless to someone outside the organisation.  The level of formality/informality of language used in the document will depend on who the readers are (e.g. a slightly less formal approach may be appropriate for an internal audience).

The job role and level of seniority is important also.  Generally, senior people are looking for a top-level overview or summary whereas people in operational roles tend to want to know more detail.  This is a generalisation and may not always be the case.  The important thing to find out is what level of detail is required by the audience for your document.

What knowledge/experience do the readers already have in relation to the topic? If you know that the readers are already familiar with the subject matter, you can make certain assumptions in your document (e.g. assuming that they understand technical terms).  However, if you make this assumption and they don’t have that knowledge, the document will be very difficult for them to understand.
Why are they getting this written communication?

 

This links back to understanding the document’s purpose.  Are the readers getting this document so that they can:

Ø  Be aware of information?

Ø  Act on the information?

Ø  Make a decision about the information?

Ø  Contribute an opinion about the information, etc.?

What do the readers want/need to know? It is important to consider the document from the reader’s point of view.  Ask yourself:  “What do they want to know?” and let this guide you in drafting the document.
What is their likely reaction to this written communication? It is useful to anticipate the readers’ likely reaction to the information in the document as this can help you draft it in the first place.  If you are expecting that the readers will have questions or objections relating to the information in your document, it is a good idea to set out what you think those questions or objections might be and give answers or arguments to deal with them.  This avoids or limits a negative reaction to the document and it gives the reader comprehensive information which has been written with them in mind.

 

 

 

What implications will the written communication have for them?

 

This is linked to the document’s purpose and you need to have an understanding of what the document means to the readers:  will they have to do anything differently as a result of your document?  Do they have to take any action?
How will the readers use it? Think about what you expect the readers to do with your document. 

Are they expected to:

Ø  Take action (if so, what action and when?)

Ø  File it?

Ø  Bin it?

Ø  Pass it on to others, etc.?

 

By considering the readers and their needs, you can tailor your document to more closely meet their needs and achieve its purpose.

Here are some general tips to help you meet your readers’ needs:

  • Fine-tune your message to meet their needs – if they already understand jargon and technical terminology, for example, don’t patronise them by explaining it. However, if you are unsure of their level of technical understanding, then don’t confuse them with lots of unexplained terms which they won’t understand.
  • Make it clear what you expect the readers to do as a result of receiving your document. For example, if you want them to respond, tell them when and how they should do this.
  • Remember that everyone is busy and paperwork adds to existing pressures and demands. Be brief and concise in your documents and this will help readers to use their time efficiently.

1.2 – Appropriate format for document is established to meet workplace requirements

By the end of this chapter, the learner will be able to:

  • Review a poorly-designed piece of text and identify improvements
  • Follow the key document design principles concerned with:
  • alignment
  • consistency
  • contract
  • use of white space.

Format and Layout of Documents

The format and layout of a document can either help or hinder the reader to access the information contained within it.   A poorly-designed document can be very difficult and unappealing to read.  Take a look at the example below:


The spacing is poor – there is no white space to give a break in the textThis piece of text is very difficult to read for a variety of reasons which include:

The alignment is inconsistent

The font size and styles are inconsistent

The use of italics, bold lettering and underlining are sporadic.

Note:  To see this text laid out in a more accessible, consistent and appealing format, return to the end of section 1.1.

Document Layout Principles

There are four key principles to follow when preparing a document’s layout and format:

These principles are:

Alignment

Consistency

Contract

Use of white space.

Alignment

Alignment is concerned with where the text is placed on the page in relation to all other content.

In the following example, the alignment is confused and confusing.  It is difficult to see which pieces of text are linked.


A better example of the text above is:
Text should be aligned to a key point or heading and any indentations should aid the reader and allow for white space.  They indicate that the text which follows is related to the previous point.


Consistency
This is an improvement as it is easier for the reader to see which text is linked to the questions.  However, further improvements could be made to this using the other principles.

A lack of consistency suggests sloppiness and a ‘that’ll do’ attitude.  When we consider that documents are one way of an organisation portraying itself to its employees and the outside world, the impression created by its documents can be significant.  For example, a job advertisement in the local paper which is lazily presented will create a negative impression of the company.

It is important to have consistency in a range of factors which include:

Font style

Font size

Character spacing.

Take a look at the following example:

In the middle of the text, the font style and size has changed.  This may be deliberate (e.g. to emphasise a point) but it looks misplaced and it alters the spacing of the lines above and below the larger text.  The overall impression created is that it is sloppy and unprofessional.

Contrast

Contrast is used in documents to make some text stand out as different to the rest.

Contrast can be achieved using:

Italics

Bold lettering

Underlining

Bullet points.

Again, if we look at the following example, we can see that there is no contrast used to help the reader to sift through and make sense of the information.

A better example which uses a combination of bold lettering and bullet points would be as follows:

White space

White space in a document is essential.  It gives the reader a breathing space, space to write notes and the mental space to see which pieces of text are linked to each other, etc.

The following piece of text has very little white space and it looks exhausting to read.

A better alternative is as follows:

1.3 – Relevant information is identified and selected for inclusion in document

By the end of this chapter, the learner will be able to:

  • Choose information for inclusion in a document which is:
  • relevant
  • accurate
  • complete
  • currnet

Choosing Information

Having identified the purpose of the document, who will use it and how it will be formatted, the next step is to choose what information to include.  There is a danger that without completing these preparation steps, the information chosen could be irrelevant, complex, unwieldy and confusing.

The criteria concerning the quality of information to include in a document are:

Relevance

Accuracy

Completeness

Currency.

Relevance

The information included in a document must be relevant to its purpose.  Whilst it might be interesting to include an overview of the costs of vehicle fleet maintenance over the last ten years in a report to senior managers, if it isn’t relevant to the purpose of the report, then it should not be included.  When compiling documents, it is important to avoid unnecessary padding – this is information which serves only to extend the length of the document rather than add to the quality to it.  If a point can be made in a single sentence or a single paragraph, why take a whole page to do so?

A useful place to start in collating information is to refer back to the document’s purpose.  Let’s take the following example:

Document purpose:  to seek approval for an extension to the vehicle maintenance budget in the current year.

Relevant information:

  • Financial data: annual budget, actual spend so far this year, forecast spend to end of year, budget shortfall
  • Vehicle maintenance data: planned/actual maintenance work completed, unexpected maintenance work required and reasons for this
  • Inspection reports: extracts of relevant inspection reports which highlight the need for unexpected maintenance work, etc.

Taking this document as our example, it may be tempting to include the vehicle maintenance data for every vehicle in the fleet, or every vehicle inspection report.   However, if we remember the document’s purpose and the likely audience, there is little value in presenting all of the available information.  The challenge is to select the most relevant information and present it in a way which enables the reader to access and digest the data.  It may be appropriate to just give summaries and a few examples, and to include the more detailed information as an appendix, or signpost the reader to where they can access that detailed information, should they require it.  This is a useful technique for managing large amounts of data – keep the main points in a summary form in the body of the document, but attach appendices with the full data.

Accuracy

It almost goes without saying that the data included in a document should be accurate.

Data may be included such as:

Facts

Figures

Dates

Names

Locations

Quantities, etc.

Particularly where decisions are to be made as a result of information in the document, it is essential that all the data is accurate.

Here is a true example of the document writer getting this wrong:

A cake manufacturer seeking investment for her business plan estimated projected sales volume based on an estimate that there were 7,000 independent delicatessens in the state.  When she was probed about how she arrived at this figure, she admitted that she had based it on how many delis were in her town, worked out a ratio per head of population of that town (e.g. one deli per 10,000 people), and then extrapolated that across the population for the whole state.  This was an unscientific way of establishing this figure and there was no way of checking if it was accurate or not – it was simply a guess which had been made using a fairly insecure method.

When including data in a document, it is important to make a few basic checks.

These checks may include:

  • Making sure that information is transposed correctly from one document to another (e.g. Transferring a figure from a screen to the document)
  • Reviewing the data and look to see if anything stands out as a potential discrepancy (e.g. If figures are all in the hundreds and then one figure is in the tens of thousands, then this should stand out and be double-checked).
Completeness

It is important that all of the relevant data is included in the document and that there are not subtle or obvious gaps.  An obvious gap is where a field on a form is blank, or where there is very little information in one section of a document compared to others.  Subtle gaps may exist where the writer has omitted a piece of information (either deliberately or accidentally) and this is more difficult for the reader to notice (e.g. with written text, rather than pre-printed forms).

If the writer bears the audience in mind when collecting the information for the document, they should have a clear overview of what the reader needs and wants from it.  Anticipating their questions is a good way of ensuring that all of the necessary information is included.

Here is another story of someone getting it wrong:

The headteacher of a junior school wrote to parents to advise them that extra-curricular activities for the children were being withdrawn from the start of the next term.  The letter went to great lengths to explain the need for change, the pressures on the school’s budget, the pressures on staff to achieve good academic results, her sadness at having to make this decision, etc.  The key thing that was missing from the letter was a clear statement about what the decision was (i.e. the removal of extra-curricular activities). The result was that parents were confused about what the letter meant and it led to the headteacher having to issue another letter to explain her decision properly.  This cost additional time and resources in the writing, printing, handling and distribution of a second letter, but it also damaged her reputation due to a poorly-written letter.

Currency

Information included in a document should be as up-to-date as possible.  Again, if decisions are being made on the basis of the information included in the document, then this must be current data to support good quality decision-making.  If it is likely that more data will become available after the publication or distribution of the document, then it may be useful to clearly signpost to the reader that the data is accurate as of X date, or to suggest where the most up-to-date data can be obtained from.