Documentation Capturing


In the past, people have failed to document processes for themselves or for their organizations. An example of a place where good documentation would help is within the IT department. When a computer-related system blocks access to the staff or refuses to update records, the IT staff has to figure out what happened and what to do next. This is usually dependent on good documentation on how a computer-related system was installed, configured, customized and implemented. Sometimes the documentation or traces of it have been “smudged” out of the history of the organization.

The “smudging” of processes has occurred throughout history. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary (2010) defines a “smudge” as something being rubbed or wiped “in a smeary manner” or a “blur”. This article will outline examples of documentation being smudged that could help others understand why certain systems or methods were implemented. It will hint of systems to capture or recapture documentation.

Historical Smudges

Kaufman (2010) discussed how Thomas Jefferson’s early drafts of the Declaration of Independence called the people of the 13 colonies “subjects” and then he erased (or “smudged”) it to replace it with “citizens”. Kaufman (2010) spoke of Jefferson wanting to represent the colonists’ allegiance to each other and not a monarch. The smeared “subjects” was found “by using a modified version of the kind of spectral imaging technology developed for the military and for monitoring agriculture”.

This unveiled “smudge” allowed the reader to understand Jefferson’s way of thinking while drafting the Declaration of Independence. Kaufman (2010) talked about how scholars had determined that “Jefferson had been writing his early version based on the first draft of Virginia's constitution, where the words "our fellow subjects" appear”. He did not want the history books to know that he had also included “subjects” in this document. Kaufman (2010) pointed out that Jefferson erased “subjects” and replaced it with “citizens” by matching “the lines and curves of the underlying smudged letters with the new letters he wrote on top of them”.

This “smudge” in history would never have been found if it were not for technology. The Associated Press (2010) discussed how Leonardo da Vinci learned from his “smudges” in order to improve his artistic skill. French scientists analyzed da Vinci’s paintings, including the "Mona Lisa," by using “a noninvasive technique called X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy to study the paint layers and their chemical composition.” No one really understood da Vinci’s “use of successive ultrathin layers of paint and glaze” until technology intervened. Da Vinci’s "sfumato" technique allowed him to use previous “smudges” on the painting to give “his works their dreamy quality” by painting “up to 30 layers of paint on his works to meet his standards of subtlety”. Through these smudges, his “sfumato” technique can be understood and followed without taking samples from the painting.

Doland (2010) stated that this technique gave “outlines and contours a hazy quality” and “an illusion of depth and shadow”. Doland (2010) explained that the tool also allowed a study of the “mix of pigments used by the artist for each coat of paint” which would also add to the understanding of how da Vinci had produced his paintings. Leonardo da Vinci’s “smudges” helped the scientists to understand new painting methods.

Disappearing Smudges

If there were no smudges, how could a question like “How was the Sphinx built” be answered? On Nova's Season 37, Episode 11 - "Riddles of the Sphinx,"( a group of two teams of scientists and builders immersed themselves into the world of Ancient Egypt to find out how the Sphinx was built. When reviewing what the teams did to figure out how the Sphinx was built, we would need to divide their resources into three resource types to use to answer this question: Project Team Profiles, Written Reports and Tool Usage ("know-how" experience).

If we try to create Project Team Profiles, it would be very hard to collect information on the individual workers who had built the Sphinx. The scientists concentrated on the “history” of ancient Egypt with tombs of the Pharaohs. Through hieroglyphics, symbolism and Egyptian figurines, the scientists found information about one team member of the Sphinx building project. The lion meant power and a pharaoh’s tomb was found with many sacrificed lions. These lions would symbolize power. The Sphinx was part lion and part man so the pharaoh was viewed as very powerful.

Under the resource type of written reports, hieroglyphics and Egyptian figurines were used to help the scientists understand about how the Sphinx came to be. Hieroglyphics spoke of the restoration efforts of Pharaoh Thutmosis IV around 1400BC. The scientists also used an Egyptian figurine of Pharaoh Khafre to help answer the question of how the Sphinx was built by pointing to a possible “Who” built the Sphinx. Scientists matched his profile with the profile of the Sphinx.

Cross-referencing the face of the miniature statue of Pharaoh Khafre with the Sphinx and the fact that Khafre’s Pyramid was directly behind it could be an unclear “smudge” of who was responsible for the Sphinx’s existance. The face of the Sphinx also seemed to match the profile of a figurine of Khafre’s son. The statues are not a conclusive “smudge”.

The third resource type uses mathematics with drawings of tools. Builders were brought in to use measurements of the usage of ancient Egyptian tools and to review an analysis of limestone attributes in order to develop a possible method for building a model of the Sphinx. The smudges had disappeared throughout the years. Only a preponderance of evidence was left.

Capturing the Smudge

It is essential to stop your office smudges from disappearing. Through a survey on SharePoint usage (Weldon, 2010), it was found that some organizations did not document the configurations and workflows created by past IT staff who had left the organization. One organization thought that the documentation was on a computer that a former IT staff member had used. A SharePoint started exhibiting problems- site refused staff access to files on the server and the site would not update. Unfortunately, when the applications and operating system were updated, all of the files on the hard disk of a former IT staff member had been deleted.

As with the Nova’s trying to find out who had built the Sphinx, the organization needed to look for three resource types: Project Team Profiles, Written Reports and Tool Usage ("know-how" experience). The project team was composed of the former IT staff member and the supervisor. The supervisor had some e-mail communications from the former IT staff member but could not understand how it correlated to their current problem. How could they re-activate the site and recover its template and functions through the Written Reports?

Let us go back to the Project Team Profiles to define the Tool Usage resource type. One team member was forgotten but the smudge was in some of the e-mails. It was the consultant who customized coding of the organization’s site. He was the holder of the “know-how” to take a SharePoint site out of the box and re-code it to fit the needs of the organization. Luckily, he still had the coding from what he had created two years ago for the organization. When this coding was placed on the server for the SharePoint site, staff did not notice any changes. The e-mails seemed to imply that when the consultant sent the re-coded site to the former IT staff member, the former IT staff member never changed it but just installed it. The smudge from the former IT staff member’s e-mail was clarified and documented.


Some smudges exist to hide steps to creating a document, for example, Jefferson’s smudge in the Declaration of Independence. Other smudges exist to help improve a skill or technique, for example, da Vinci’s painting style of adding layers of paint to change quality and depth of the object in the painting. Without smudges, we may not be able to know how a document or painting was created. The smudges of how the Sphinx was built faded throughout time. The remains of smudges were just possibilities of how the Sphinx was built.

If the smudges could be captured before they would disappear, then organizations would be able to have documentation to keep their computer systems functioning. Other IT staff would be able to read documentation about what had been performed on the computer systems so that if a function on the computer system would break-down, they could easily figure out what had happened.


Associated Press. (2010, July 17). X-ray study unlocks some of the 'Mona Lisa' magic. Washington Post , p. C05. (2010). Preponderance of Evidence. Retrieved from

Doland, A. (2010, July 16). French scientists crack secrets of Mona Lisa. Retrieved from

Kaufman, M. (2010, July 3). Jefferson changed `subjects' to `citizens' in Declaration of Independance. Washington Post , p. A01.

Weldon, L. (2010). SharePoint Without Coding: My Notes for Embedding the Librarian. College Park, MD: Lorette S.J. Weldon.