Some of the topics that I write about seem like very simple things, but it’s sometimes these little things that add up to big impact in how you are perceived. This is the polish; the fine-tuning that helps you stand out as a Real World BA™. It’s sometimes an unconscious perception, but it does make an impact over time.
Despite initiatives that are focused on minimizing printing and working in a paperless environment, keep in mind that some percentage of your audience will prefer to print out your document to review off-line. And while headers and footers can provide impact all the time, they are especially important when your documentation is viewed in printed form.
Have you ever reviewed a printed version of a document and had to do a little work to figure out what you were looking at? Have you dropped a stack of papers and couldn’t figure out how they went back together? How do you know if you’re looking at the most current version of that document? All of these problems can be easily solved by using smart headers and footers.
What are Headers and Footers?
The header is the area that will print at the top of every page, while the footer is the area that will print at the bottom of every page. In many programs, you can have different headers and footers on each page, or by sections; but I recommend that you consider keeping them the same for the entire document (and across all your documents for that matter) for a couple of reasons:
- Provides helpful, easy to find information about the document
- Ties all the pages together as part of a larger document
What Information Should I Include in my Headers and Footers?
Think of header and footer information similar to metadata – it’s data that describes data. Specifically, it’s data that describes your document.
And if I am looking at a document, what information would I most care about? I usually like to include the following information:
- Any branding elements like a logo, if necessary
- Document Name or Description
- File Name
- Version Number
- Page Number
- Copyright or Confidentiality Notices
Let’s briefly take a look at each of these elements:
Whether this is an internally distributed documented or one that will be disseminated to outside clients, adding the appropriate company logo adds a sense of ownership and professionalism to your document. If you’re working jointly with another company on your document, you can include both companies’ logos in the header.
Document Name or Description
Even though you might have a cover page, include the document name or description on the top of each page. This reinforces the scope of what information is included. For example, if this is the “Project X Business Requirements” document, there is no doubt that the reader should not expect to see technical solution details in the document (assuming you separate this information).
I include the file name because I use a file naming convention that includes a lot of information as well. This reinforces the naming convention, and puts the document description in the footer as well as the header. It also makes it easier to locate the electronic version of the document when needed.
If you do not use a file naming convention that includes the version number, then be sure to separately add that information here. This eliminates the confusion that is caused when people are reviewing different versions of the document. Particularly when you are facilitating review meetings, be sure to make a point and call out the current version number that you are referencing.
Page numbers obviously make it easier for people to find the right page referenced in the table of contents (you do include a table of contents for larger documents, right?), or when they want to draw your attention to a specific area where they might have a question or comment. But take this one step further, and be sure to use the “Page x of y” format. The “x” references the current page number, and the “y” references the total number of pages. Nothing is more frustrating than not knowing if you have the complete document because you don’t know if page 17 is the last page or if there is more.
Copyright or Confidentiality Notices
Much of what you produce as business analysts will be confidential to the company that you are working for. And often, the details are proprietary in nature. Be sure to include the appropriate copyright statement or confidentiality notice. Contact your legal department for the proper language that should be included. Often times, the language will vary depending on who the intended audience is, but it is important to note that the content of the document is protected. Trust me, the lawyers will thank you.
The small amount of effort it takes to utilize the header and footer to your advantage will pay off in showing that you pay attention to the details, and that you want to make it easy for your audience to get the information they need.
How do you make your headers and footers work for you? Do you include different information?