Making Great Docs, Step One: hate the first draft.

By Joel Barker

Update: Our client did like her second draft and immediately took it to meet with prospects. She tells us that it helped her close two deals immediately. We make content with an eye for value. It did not take long for that project to show value!

Yesterday a client called. She did not like the first draft of a white paper that we are making for her. She was downright apologetic. I was overjoyed.

“Great. Tell me what you don’t like about it,” I said.

What followed was a really productive conversation about the story she wanted to tell. She dug up some more source material that will be really valuable in making the second draft. Draft two is going to be awesome.


Word Lions love a good, heavy markup of an early draft. We have been making technical content for a variety of customers for a long time. We know that we are not going to get it right with the first draft— at least not until Philip masters some of the subject matter expert interviewing techniques he has been practicing.

We use a lot of techniques to get our first draft as close as possible to the client’s dream documents.  This is how we save money and time on our projects.  Our rich content outline process gives a reviewer not just the content but the tone of the document much earlier in the process. We also clarify very early who our reviewers will be and make sure that everyone reviews every draft.

We don’t want them to just look over the document. The worst review is always two words long. If someone sends us a review that is simply “looks good,” we will go back to them with more questions, trying to stimulate feedback. We need that feedback to make good final product.

And that is what we do. We make great final products. We know that many documentation, white paper, case study, and other content-creation initiatives fail. To be blunt, our projects don’t fail.

One of the ways that we get projects to completion is by collecting good feedback on early drafts. Our client told me what she did not like about that first draft. She gave me some stories about how her business makes a difference in her client’s lives. I was already pretty enthusiastic about her business, now I am bullish.

Now I just need to Fed Ex her the biggest, reddest pen I can find.