Now Screening: DDLC

If you’re an aspiring technical writer, chances are that you have heard the term DDLC. For the uninitiated, this may sound like one of those abbreviated movie titles… Those interminably long ones that often get shortened into just their initial letters… While certainly not as entertaining as those potboilers, learning about DDLC can certainly be very useful for your everyday work as a tech writer.

Simply put, DDLC, aka document development life cycle, describes the various phases in the life of a document – from conception, to design, development, and maintenance. DDLC mirrors another similar sounding abbreviation – SDLC, aka software development lifecycle. Your document takes shape, grows, and eventually outgrows its useful shelf-life along with the software it relates to. 

The following are the phases of DDLC in brief:


Right at the outset, you need to understand the requirements in details. What kind of a document or collateral are you creating? Is it a user guide, a technical specification, a tutorial? Who is the audience for this document? What is their level of familiarity with the product / solution in question, and therefore, how detailed must the document be? Will this document be printed or published online? Accordingly, what tools must you select?

Understanding these requirements will help you put together a basic project plan that articulates the expected goals / outcomes, the team composition, and the time required to get the document ready, etc. 


The next step is designing the document. This would provide a clear framework of how the document will look and what information it would contain. Designing involves creating the table of contents, creating a style sheet, developing a template / master page, etc.

The channel of delivery and publishing format would have a bearing on the design elements you choose. For example, the font size and even the placement of the header / footer would change depending on whether you are creating an online help embedded into the product or a PDF for print. It might be a good idea to get your draft table of contents and templates reviewed by peers and team members so you know you are on the right track before you start authoring the document. 


With the design and overall framework approved, you can move on to the most critical and intensive phase of DDLC – the actual authoring of the document. At this stage, you:

  • Constantly interact with the subject matter expert (SME) to obtain detailed information about the product;
  • Don the role of the user and gain first-hand knowledge of how the product works. You might even catch some bugs and spot some areas for improvement as you work with the product;
  • Put together a first draft of the document based on the framework you have defined earlier on;
  • Add screenshots, illustrations, navigational aids, etc., to the document
  • Review / proofread / edit your own work to create a draft that is ready for internal review.


After your draft is ready, you send it for review to both your peers and your SMEs. You can choose to keep sending interim drafts for review so you can manage the development and review tracks in parallel. This will reduce the overall time and effort spent in developing the document. 


Publishing your document depends on the format and channel of distribution. For a PDF, you might need to generate a table of contents, set the document properties, create bookmarks, etc. In case you are creating an online help using a help authoring tool, you might have to generate an index and glossary, set up map IDs for context-sensitive help, etc. Once done, your document is ready to meet the world!


This is the last, and often the longest, leg of DDLC. Maintenance would involve making changes to the document based on user feedback, updating steps and screens over versions, and adding information to support new product features. Every version of a document is assigned a unique version number to maintain clear revision history. 

DDLC is cyclic – eventually every document reaches the end of its valuable shelf-life and it is time to start from scratch again. 



DDLC and SDLC have been going hand-in-hand for several years now. But as the world moves towards agile development, the concepts of SDLC and DDLC are also undergoing constant change. More about this in another blog… 

Category: Documentation, Technical Writing, Technical Writing for Dummies


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