The World Without Documentation

“What a wonderful world this would be”

by SamCooke

Great song. But just consider for a moment what the world would be without documentation…

Who Needs Documentation?


Agile software developers adhere to their manifesto of minimal documentation. Ideally, this means no documentation. Obviously this is intended to produce a product where the user knows immediately how to use it without having to read anything. How intuitive.

Teachers are the first to say that people learn different ways. Not everybody reads. True, many people consider themselves visual learners. But isn’t it a “wow” moment when you hear somebody say, “I can’t think of the last time I read a book.” Even if you are a visual learner, is it a justifiable reason to throw all documentation into the trash and stop producing documentation?

For a second, consider some of the issues the world would face if documentation goes away:

  1. No laws written down. Anarchy
  2. No written music. OK, only the musicians with a great memory can play.
  3. No ownership. How can you prove property ownership with a he said-she said?
  4. No Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Consider the verbal training that would have to occur and the slow-down of business
    before everybody on the assembly line knows what is going on and expected.
  5. No written contracts. How do you know what work is going to be done and what you agreed to? Back to the handshake is a man’s word.

So, what does this mean as digital technology runs pell-mell over documents as we know them, and all communication and transactions going to mobile devices?

Well, the advantages of course are the mobility and flexibility – a better user experience (TBD)? But where are the checks and balances?

It’s bad enough that people don’t know how to read their receipts from the store, or their EOBs from their insurance companies. But where will the paper trail be for tracking purchases against bank accounts? Taxes will be a nightmare (more than they are already)!

Are we to take for granted that the appropriate controls are in place to ensure we aren’t getting ripped off on a daily basis? What about the proof of what was purchased, or being able to compare the quality of the goods promised against what you received?

“Sir, do you have your receipt?”

Documentation, whether in paper form or digital, will still have to include controls as well as secure processes to ensure appropriate storage, retrieval, and archiving. Otherwise, how will we ever remember what we did last year, let alone what the previous generation did?

Please add your comments.

About jleer

Jonathan Leer is writer/owner of Leer Technical Communications, LLC, a technical/business writing consultancy that strives to add value to content creation and delivery. He and his fellow writers and editors provide their services to companies in the high-tech, financial, healthcare, and manufacturing industries. Many of these projects have required working with stakeholders in compliance, product development and testing, professional services, customer support, marketing, sales, finance, and training. Content has been targeted to customers, and partners, as well as developers and other internal personnel, and published for wiki, web, and print delivery. Contact Jon for questions or requests for assistance with your next content project.
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One Response to The World Without Documentation

  1. Bob Wickman says:

    I find documentation essential when intuition fails in reprogramming my universal remote control or resetting the time on my 3 digital/analog watches. Fortunately with the Internet we no longer need to figure out where we left our little instruction booklets. In my job providing helpdesk support to 54 school districts for submitting data to NY State Education Department, I find myself frequently searching, reading and interpreting the 287 page guidance manual to assist my callers. As a person who was not blessed with a memory, relying on searchable reference documentation is my means of coping with information overload. Thanks for sharing Jon!

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