The aim of technical documentation is to communicate a technical subject to a defined audience. As with all communications, understanding your audience is the first task of technical documentation. A scientist writing for scientists knows his or her audience because he or she is a scientist. But most technical documentation is really an exercise close to translation. User guides, process documentation and technical marketing communications all attempt to reveal technology in a clear, concise and accessible presentation to people who will be using a technology or process but did not create it.
Ideally — meaning this almost never happens! — the writer/director of technical documentation is part of the product or process development team. Why is this a good idea? For one, good technical writers/directors are always the user’s advocate and focus on communicating issues to product development that will be important to the success of the technology in the marketplace. They will have important contributions to make involving naming conventions, the user interface (UI) and simplifying the use of product functions or the acceptance of process steps.
It’s essential that the writer/director understand the tool or process, which includes understanding why the product is constructed in the way it is. It’s easier to persuade an audience of product value when you know why every nut and bolt is where it is and how it does what it does.
Provided with these advantages, the document writer/director will be much more likely to get it right the first time, reducing the time it takes the SME to explain a new technology or process to a person coming in “cold.” Nothing is more frustrating to both the technology developer and the writer/director than having to go back and forth over product information that could have been shared at its inception rather than after the fact. The actual “content” development process is explained here.
The effect of good technical documentation touches all customer-facing functions and, especially in process documentation, internal functions of an organization. Here’s a Venn diagram illustrating this reach for user documentation:
And here’s a short list of how your company can benefit from good technical documentation:
- Customer satisfaction with your products rises
- Your reputation in the market improves
- The likelihood of repeat orders increases
- Marketing and sales add to their set of features and benefits
- The cost of on-going support is reduced
- Developers have more time to do what they do best
- Your competitors have more to worry about