Document markup is a fundamental tool in the automation process. Marking up your documents streamlines automation by providing a roadmap for each document that you work on.
In addition to improving the speed and effectiveness of your automation, the practice of marking up your documents serves to give you a deeper understanding of your documents, provides an opportunity to improve your documents, and facilitates effective communication and collaboration.
Below, we will discuss the significance of document markup, explore its potential benefits, and teach you how to markup your own documents.
What Is Document Markup?
Before we go any further, let’s clarify what we mean by document markup. Markup, in the context of document automation, is the process of analyzing your document to determine what needs to be automated and how the automation should be structured.
Markup helps you identify essential data points, variables, and patterns within your document that can be automated. As an extremely simple example, marking up a contract would involve at minimum noting the names and roles of everyone who is a party to the contract and marking which clauses of the contract might be included or excluded in various circumstances.
Why does Markup Matter?
Marking up your documents clearly and well means that when you start to automate your documents, you know what pieces of information need to be automated and you have a good idea of how the whole document works together. This allows you to automate more quickly and helps ensure that no logic or data points get missed.
While the primary purpose of markup is to make automation efficient and easy for you, it is also a powerful tool for better understanding your documents, improving consistency, and facilitating collaboration with your staff and colleagues.
Understanding. The process of marking up your documents, which will be explained later in this post, involves getting deep into the nitty-gritty details of the content and the logical structure of each document.
Usually, when you’re drafting documents, you are focused on getting the document done; you don’t have time to sit down and think about every part of the language you use and how the document functions as a whole.
The analysis of your documents required in marking them up provides you an opportunity to spend some time interacting with your documents more fundamentally than you usually would, which often leads to refining and improving them on a substantive level.
Consistency. Similarly, sitting down with your documents to mark them up gives you an opportunity to refine things like formatting, language, and all the little details that go into how your documents look and read.
It can be beneficial to take some time, while you are deeply engaged with your documents for markup anyway, to standardize these details across your documents to improve consistency and professionalism.
Communication and Collaboration. In marking up your document, you will add comments and annotations within the document as to how each part of the document functions. This can be immensely helpful when working with others in relation to your documents.
Marking up your documents gives you a set of documents that contains context and explanations within the document, which can help others understand your thought processes, assumptions, and specific instructions related to the content of your document.
This means that when others need to review your documents – whether for the purpose of feedback from a colleague or subject matter expert, discussions with your staff, or when you later update your documents – each part of the document is clearly marked as to function and content.
A clearly marked document allows anyone reviewing the document to focus on specific sections or elements that require attention and keeps any discussion of the document on track by ensuring everyone is on the same page (literally and metaphorically).
How to Markup Documents
Now that you know what markup is and what the benefits of it are, it’s time to learn how to markup your documents.
It is crucial that you markup your documents in a way that is consistent and easy to understand. Your markup should be detailed enough that you’ll be able to come back to the document later and understand what you meant by each notation, and be clear enough that if you needed to hand the document off to someone else to automate, they would be able to follow your thought process.
Markup involves two essential steps: identifying what information should be automated and determining the logic of the document.
Step 1: Identifying Dynamic Information
Determining what parts of your documents should be automated and what should remain hard text is the basis of any automation.
The first step in marking up your documents is going through the document and making a note of any text or piece of information that needs to be dynamic – i.e., anything that changes each time you draft that particular document. This can include things like case numbers, names of the parties, your client’s address, and other similar information.
You will want to mark these parts of your document in a way that stands out – generally, using highlights on the text or changing the font color are good ways to visually identify all the places you will need to create fields for automated text to come into your document.
Step 2: Determining Document Logic
Once you know all the pieces of information that need to be automated, you’ll want to analyze the logic of your document – i.e., how all the pieces of it work together. This can include conditional logic, defining lists, and thinking about how the data used in your document should be structured.
Conditional logic means looking at the parts of your document that are only relevant when certain conditions apply. For instance, you may have a paragraph in your document that should only come in when your client is married. Conditional logic can apply to single words, a sentence, whole paragraphs, or even entire sections of your documents.
If you have previously used a clause library to draft documents, this step is where you would bring all your clauses into the document with the logic around them so you can automate the relevant language.
In marking up conditional logic, it’s useful to have some way of marking where the conditional language starts, where it ends, and what the condition for it should be.
One common system for doing this is to mark conditional logic in a specific color, and then use comments in Word to notate what condition should apply to that language. However, any way that you can clearly note what language should be conditional and what the condition is will work.
Defining lists is the process of identifying any part of your document that may need to be grouped into a list and noting where that list should start, where it should end, and what information it should include.
For example, if you are automating a will, you almost certainly will need to list and identify any children your client has. Because there may be one or several children, and you will need similar information about all of them (such as names and birthdates), it makes sense to note in your markup that you will need to create a list element to bring in the children.
Any place that you see your document listing out items of a similar type, you’ll want to mark that as a potential list element. Common examples include things like fiduciaries, assets, the parties involved in the case, and grantors or grantees.
Document structure is how all the parts of your document work together from a logical, automation-focused perspective. This step requires standing back and looking at your document and your markup as a whole so that you can determine what automation elements you might need and how they should be grouped.
This step combines all of the previous ones; you will use the markup on what pieces of information are dynamic, what your conditional logic is, and the markup of lists to determine how to group all those pieces of information together most efficiently.
As an example, a near-universal part of document structure is the people named in the document. In analyzing your document, you would want to note what information you need related to various people.
In the above example regarding the list of children in a will, you already know that you need a list of children and that you need their names and birthdates. In looking at your will, you probably also would find that you need name, gender, and location information for the testator/testatrix, and the name and gender of their spouse if they are married.
For the document structure portion of markup, you would then want to note that you will need to automate children, testator, and spouse, and how their information should be grouped together.
Once you have noted in your document all the data points which should be automated and how your document’s automation should be logically structured, you will be in a good position to automate your document efficiently.
Here is a video with examples of how to do a markup of your documents:
Document markup is a versatile tool that serves several vital purposes in document automation, including improving the efficiency of your automation process, increasing the quality of your documents, and fostering effective collaboration. Marking up your documents thoroughly and clearly will streamline your document automation.
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