About PPQ's Manuals Unit

About PPQ's Manuals Unit

About PPQ's Manuals Unit  

Curious about why and how we do what we do? Here you'll find out about our mission, services, history, standards, methods, writers code, and laws of effective manuals.



Email PPQ Manuals Unit

To harness the power of current and future communications strategies to produce user focused electronic and paper manuals.

Write, edit, produce, and maintain job aids and documentation that help employees of Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) and cooperators safeguard agricultural resources and protect and enhance the environment.

PPQ's Manuals Unit provides the following services:

  • Consulting for documentation projects
  • Facilitating working session to create documents
  • Training--Job Aids Workshop, writing workshops, education resources
  • Analyzing situations for writing manuals
  • Maintaining PPQ manuals
  • Preparing data sheets for the New Pest Advisory Group
  • Preparing new pest response guidelines

In 1985, the Deputy Administrator of PPQ charged the Technical Communication and Structured Documentation (Manuals Unit) with a new mission: Improve the existing set of manuals and design and develop new manuals using the existing training technology. The Manuals Unit:

  • Rewrites PPQ's operational guidelines (manuals) about biological control, domestic, emergency, and port operations
  • Maintains and updates the rewritten PPQ manuals
  • Plans, develops, produces, and evaluates new manuals for PPQ
  • Consults with Agency units about manuals and writing standards

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Members of the Manuals Unit hold themselves to strict standards of writing, contents of a manual, and page layout and conventions. Standards help ensure consistency of writing and formatting throughout all manuals.
Writers are evaluated against standards of precision, clarity and readability. The standard for readability is established to match the audience of a manual.
Contents of a Manual:
These standards provide minimum requirements about the structure and content of manuals developed by the Manuals Unit. The standards apply to content rather than to style. Standards for style are set by the Government Printing Office Style Manual, the Chicago Manual of Style, and additional standards published by the Manuals Unit. Adherence to these standards does not preclude:

  • Applying additional, more stringent standards or requirements
  • Including topics or materials not required by these standards
  • Modifying a manual by the users while planning

These standards apply to manuals that provide the users with procedures to do their jobs or that provide necessary information for making regulatory decision. These standards do not apply to:

  • Materials intended primarily for use in training programs
  • Reports or other related documents

The six sections in these standards cover the following topics:

  • Scope--Describes the scope of these standards, when applicable
  • Definitions--Defines terms and concepts used in these standards
  • Users--Covers how to analyze the manual's audience: groups of users and readers that need to use the manual
  • Components--Summarizes what information is mandatory in a manual, what information is optional
  • Content--Describes the topics that must be covered in each manual including such topics as content, introduction, conventions, and reference
  • Presentation--Covers how to present material in manuals so that it is easy to read and understand

If you wish to see the standards for manual contents that the Manuals Unit follows, select Manual Content. [PDF file]

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Page Layout and Conventions: 
Because the Manuals Unit is currently switching to a desktop publishing system, the established standards are out of date. As soon as we begin publishing manuals using the new system, we will post the standards used for page layout and conventions.

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Methods and Technologies:
The Manuals Unit carries out its mission by applying established systems for writing and maintaining performance based documents.
The Writing System:
One of the first and most critical accomplishments of the Manuals Unit was to design a writing system that would guide the design and development of manuals. The system is a step-by-step process that is used to analyze a job that will be described specifically in a manual, plan what the manual will look like, write and produce the manual, and evaluate the manual to make sure it works. Therefore, the writing system is divided into five stages: Analysis, Planning, Development, Production, and Evaluation The technical writers of the Manuals Unit are the primary users of the writing system. The writers implement the writing system at the beginning of each assignment to write a manual. Two approaches to designing and developing manuals are integrated in the writing system. It bridges the approach used by performance technologists who develop instruction with that used by technical writers who develop structured documentation. Both approaches influence performance. Therefore, compatible efforts between instruction and documentation design and development offers a more complete solution to the performance needs of PPQ. The writing system allows the users of a manual to participate in its design and development. They are involved throughout the process to:

  • Determine workability of a manual
  • Validate policy
  • Identify critical results of performance
  • Determine the accuracy and comprehensiveness of a manual's content

If you wish to see the writing system, select Writing Process. [PDF file] Each of the five stages is presented first with a narrative explanation followed by a schematic of the steps within each stage and a corresponding checklist. The checklist serves as an aid while designing and developing a manual.

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Revision Process

 "Updating a manual is like changing a tire on a moving car."
-Edmond H. Weiss

Nevertheless, manuals must be maintained and modified. If policies are changed, more reliable procedures are developed, or regulations are amended, the corresponding manuals must also be changed. If not changed, the manuals themselves can have errors and weaknesses that are independent of the systems they support. In either case, without a systematic procedure for maintaining the manuals, they are likely to fail substantially reducing the effectiveness of the programs or activities they support. So to maintain manuals effectively, a modern revision process is a must. If you wish to see the procedures the Manuals Unit follows to maintain PPQ manuals, select Revision Process. [PDF file] Topics covered are responsibilities, processing revisions, files, and other considerations.

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Code for Writers of Manuals in PPQ: 
As a writer of manuals, I am the bridge between those who develop methods, procedures, and regulations and those who use and enforce them. Because I recognize that the quality of my services directly affects how well users follow procedures and enforce regulations I am committed to excellence in performance and the highest standards of ethical behavior. I recognize that unless the manuals I produce work, I do our organization a grave disservice. That is, if users cannot quickly and easily find the information they need and follow the procedures, I have failed as a writer of manuals. I, therefore, recognize my responsibility to write manuals that are:

  • Accurate
  • Complete
  • Accessible
  • Logical
  • Easy to read
  • Based upon the needs of the user

My commitment to professional excellence and to ethical behavior means that I will:

  • Get the manuals and their updates into the hands of the users before or when they need them
  • Use a format that is appropriate for the procedures
  • Design and sequence the manual so that users will infrequently have to skip, change direction, or consult other documents
  • Develop indexes that let users quickly find the information they need
  • Not assume knowledge the user does not have
  • Recognize my limitations as a manual writer that I cannot make a messy system neat or an awkward procedure workable
  • Confront situations characterized by messy systems and awkward procedures
  • Present information in sufficient detail to minimize the range of interpretation and reduce ambiguity
  • Use language with precision and clarity
  • Make sure that the manuals are tested, retested, and tested again
  • Follow a system for revising and updating so that users will have to do nothing more than add a page or replace a page
  • Never disregard the legislation or its regulations in communicating procedures and strategies unless directed to do so by top management
  • Be fair to the user rather than satisfy my own need for self-expression
  • Hold myself responsible for how well users can perform the task being guided
  • Respect the work of colleagues, knowing that seldom is only one solution right and others wrong
  • Continually improve my technical and professional competency

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 Laws of Effective Manuals: 
There are six laws to confront if one wants to produce effective manuals:

  • What is convenient for the writer will be inconvenient for the user
  • An orderly manual cannot improve a messy system
  • It is impossible to make a manual foolproof because fools are so ingenious
  • All manuals are out of date the instant they are published
  • Updating a manual is like changing tires on a moving car
  • All distribution lists are inaccurate

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