Pick a beat for release notes

Journalists at Play Flickr: Lisa PadillaThis is fun. Fedora has “beat writers” which harken to journalists tracking a story. Each beat is a section in the release notes. I found it while poking around on the Fedora wiki pages that describe how they do documentation. See fedoraproject.org/wiki/Documentation_Beats.

I like this approach for a few reasons. One is that the term “beat” seems fresh. While I did have to look for the definition of “beat writer,” I had a notion in the back of my mind and it turned out to be correct. My initial reaction was, oh, it’s like a journalist chasing down a story, or beat reporting, being assigned to a regular route.

The second strength I see in this approach is that you can divide writing tasks and track progress. Having a “beat” assignment also matches knowledge areas to experts in that area.

Assigning someone to a “beat” also means they’ll try to uncover a story. More software documentation could use story telling. Try to tell the stories your users tell you – or better yet, let them tell their story. Curate these from blog entries or chase the story down yourself with interviews.

We’ve probably used this type of approach for ages in enterprise documentation, but this strikes me as a particular good way to parcel out work in a collaborative environment while still maintaining a high quality outcome.People are naturally drawn to their interests, and assigning them writing tasks based on areas of interest is a great method for making community documentation fun and engaging.

5 Comments

  • Techquestioner
    January 24, 2012 - 11:48 am | Permalink

    Release Notes are often relegated to being just one more pesky thing that has to be done before a new software version or update can be released. The tech writer assigned to get it done is often frantic to make sure all the relevant “beats” are covered. If those sections or topics are assigned to “beat” writers with full knowledge of their areas, that poor writer only needs to collect and integrate the inputs from all the designated “beats” to sensure that all the necessary topics and changes from each area are covered — and correct. I think it’s a great idea, too.

  • February 5, 2012 - 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Yes, it’s very much the collaborative model I’d like. In an enterprise or corporate environment, I would suppose the collaboration can happen with product managers as the “beat writers” – maybe even with a blog or wiki enabling the collaborators to edit when they need to.

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  • February 7, 2012 - 10:53 pm | Permalink

    As my company has recently switched to the Agile Scrum development process, tracking down “beats” for the release has naturally become a part of my job. Though a bit stressful, it certainly adds a little excitement to my day. I’ve discovered it helps to keep a collaborative spreadsheet or Google Docs updated with the “beats” so product owners can also contribute to the process.

    I also hope to expand this style to our support blog where top clients can contribute their own “beats” on product releases. We’ll see…

  • February 15, 2012 - 11:06 am | Permalink

    What a refreshing perspective for documentation: Beats! Seems interesting as it can add a new zing to the documentation planning process.

    Thanks for sharing it!

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