If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough
– Albert Einstein
Technical writing’s value can be observed in a range of applications, including consumer items and the industrial environment. Products can become useless at best and harmful at worst without clear, precise wording that specifies the specs and recommendations for usage. In Keepler, technical writing gives our products and processes context, allowing them to be understood by everyone in the company. While it is not impossible to build and utilise equipment and processes without first reading the technical manuals, technical writing does provide some assurance that the product is being used as intended. The idea is to educate your community and provide a self-service mode of help and learning.
One can argue that “liking to create documentation” is a unique trait, especially given the reputation it has acquired as a task. Those tweets could turn out to be accurate, in which case technical writers should be recognized for the rare treasures they are.
In this article, I will touch upon:
- How technical writing can be used throughout the company; effective documentation benefits everyone.
- Aside from writing, technical writers frequently undertake other activities and help in other areas.
- A small list of some great tools you can use for the more practical side of your technical writing.
Of course, a technical writer must be able to express concepts succinctly and clearly. Because your profession would entail conveying sophisticated concepts, material should be simple to comprehend. To write something useful for people, one must first grasp the product and its principles of operation.
The importance of technical writing in the technology sphere may be observed in a variety of applications, including the pitching of new products or concepts. It is necessary to be able to write clear technical documents for investors and management when introducing a new product. The objective of the product, as well as details such as its architecture, capacity to ingest data, and main benefits compared to its competitors must be clearly demonstrated in technical writing.
Individuals can save time and money by accessing technical writing, while the economy benefits as well. Individuals and businesses may be hesitant to invest in new goods and processes if their technical writing is poor. Thus, the value of technical writing may be measured not just in terms of the money it generates, but also in terms of the convenience and security it provides for readers.
1. Effective documentation benefits everyone
Most are unaware of the importance of technical writing in their company. They don’t realise it’s not just a matter of putting up instructions and definitions—at least, it doesn’t have to (and probably shouldn’t be). Let’s take a look at some of the important areas where technical writing helps at Keepler.
Content marketing is the process of creating content with the goal of acquiring new consumers and keeping the ones you already have. The goal of material intended to promote a product, service, or brand is to elicit some form of response from the content’s viewers, ideally converting them into customers. Blogs, social media posts, website material, product catalogues, and other types of writing fall under this category. The ultimate purpose of such content is to make money and/or form long-term professional relationships. The tone or voice here, too, is dependent on the audience and might vary widely from instance to case. The user’s journey is another place where the marketing aspect of writing cannot be overlooked. Technical writers must ensure that a user’s path to interact with specific content is not overly complicated, rewarding, or beneficial. You don’t want to leave your users stuck at the end of their journey. This is where marketing overlap may be really beneficial, as you can guide the audience to a product or service that can solve their concerns.
Although much of the presale content I mentioned can be labelled as “marketing,” content marketing is a new type of content in marketing. Information marketing excludes content with the sole purpose of persuading you to purchase a product. Content marketing entails providing people with useful information and tales that address their problems. The content may not always speak on the company’s products.
I’ve heard a lot about addressing the entire customer journey or having a unified customer experience strategy during the last year. Companies must have consistent content for all client touchpoints, from the moment prospects become prospects to the time customers become customers and beyond.
Users may attend a webinar, watch an overview video, visit a demo site, read a blog article, download a white paper, and so on while researching a company.
They may interact with additional forms of material after purchasing the software, such as a Getting Started lesson, a support article, emails from customer service agents, interactive show-me videos, forum postings, KB articles, and more.
The content should have a consistent look and feel, with the same messaging, words, tone, and style. Similar content should be generated from the same source. Despite the fact that material is created by several departments inside a company, the client interacts with it as if it were a single entity. The material should be consistent as well.
New products, capabilities, and lesser-known features are regularly demonstrated by sales engineers. Having detailed documentation readily at hand when they need it can make their jobs easier and their demos more effective. Individuals throughout the organisation must be empowered and supported by high-quality documentation.
The value of technical writing can be evident in the use of more traditional items and procedures, in addition to the introduction of new products. While in a technological setting, trainers may assist staff in learning various pieces of software, technical manuals can assist when unique scenarios arise or act as a thorough reference in other situations. Even if someone with greater expertise or experience is not, this information is readily available. Technical writing documents can help to decrease or eliminate downtime.
Technical writing is a continuous process
“Technical writing is a continuous process of learning, carefully gathering, sifting, organising, and assessing, all while trying to craft something that makes sense for a user.”
— Krista Van Laan
Writing is one of the oldest and most effective means of communication. Technical documentation is becoming increasingly important to businesses. With the expansion of business, it becomes difficult to keep up with the technical documentation if it is not properly maintained. Companies nowadays utilise a number of style guides and standards to make their documentation more useful. To make paperwork presentable, a range of products are available on the market.
Technical writing is gradually becoming a business’s backbone, and expert writers are in high demand. High sales, greater customer confidence, added value to the product, and reduced product support time were all benefits of a corporation that keeps usable documentation.
2. Other technical Writing Activities
I am what we call an accidental technical writer. I earned a master’s degree in History from the university. After a while, I had to recycle my knowledge regarding documentation and I did some courses with the University of California Irvine. It took a while, but my efforts paid off and in time I was able to find work in this field. Not only did I have to translate texts, but I also had to edit some of them. I was once asked to review a few technical writing subjects. Of course, it was challenging for me at first because I didn’t know much about the product or how to correctly edit such phrases.
In the Technical Writing community, we often talk about the Accidental Technical Writer—someone who, not unlike myself, might not have set out to be a Technical Writer but is now in the role (officially or not, full time or as a secondary responsibility at work). The nicest part about learning as much as you want is that you can love what you’re learning at times.
To be honest, as a technical writer, you can probably get by without learning too much new information. There are technical writers who aren’t experts in any one field yet work well with subject matter experts to create excellent documentation. There are technical writers that don’t know anything about the software they write about, but the documentation can’t really tell because it was written collaboratively.
I despise writing about subjects about which I have little knowledge. It gives me the creeps. I believe I should be able to spot inconsistencies or inaccuracies in my own documentation. When Keepler recognized the need to have a dedicated technical writer, I jumped at the opportunity to revamp the documentation and turn it into something more. My lack of “formal” technical writing training might have led me to tackle this project differently than some in the industry. We are currently in the middle of a revamping of the internal wiki, using XWiki as a product and service from the start. I want documentation that combines different sources of technical content and is perhaps a bit friendlier and less formal than classic technical writing.
I’ve met very interesting professionals through the Write the Docs group work in technical writing, which involves a lot more than just creating documentation (to their delight or dismay, depending on the individual). Technical writers develop intricate schematics, alter photos and make animations, use source control systems, compose tutorial films, improve in-product messaging, agonise over terminology, and more. Some of them write documentation for developers only, and they themselves must have a solid programming background.
Technical writers act as product detectives, scouring organic communication (e.g., Ryver channels, emails, forums, and social media) for questions that were asked in order to determine if there is a gap in the documentation, an area that needs improvement, or a piece of product information that isn’t easily found. They learn to ask the proper questions by interviewing subject matter experts (typically engineers, product managers, and sales engineers). Many of them (if they weren’t already) become subject matter experts. They’re product librarians, and their job is to organise and exchange information.
Any occupation cultivates a specific set of abilities. But techwriting is more than just writing; it also involves engaging with people, conducting research, and solving problems.
Writing and, very importantly, teaching skills are required for documentation to be useful (In my experience, more individuals are finding me on LinkedIn by looking for “Technical Writer + Instructional Design” keywords). Information must be organised and presented in an understandable manner. It takes considerable talent to express complicated technical concepts in clear language and break them down into easy-to-understand chunks before connecting them to other topics. The information is presented in a way that includes graphics, note boxes, lists, and other approaches to break up a wall of text into something more visually appealing and less daunting. When it comes to paperwork, some people may mix typing skills with communication skills, yet actionable writing skills are essential. The majority of employers seek excellent writing skills, while poor writing skills cost organisations billions of dollars.
The work atmosphere of a professional technical writer intrigues many brilliant authors. They consider the peace and tranquillity of the environment to be a true job benefit. Introverts enjoy being alone with only a computer for research and document creation during the technical writing process. Writers from all over the world share their enthusiasm for a job that can be more of a hobby.
When defining technical writing, it’s necessary to consider the technical writer’s identity and prominent personality traits. A professional in this field is, unsurprisingly, artistic and investigative. They’re quite inquisitive. Leonardo da Vinci is the most famous technical writer of all time, according to legend. He apparently developed ‘user manuals’ for his unique inventions throughout the Renaissance.
As you have a better comprehension of technical writing and gain more technical expertise, consider whether it fits your personality type. When starting a new professional career, it’s a good idea to complete a self-assessment and think about your unique skills and talents.
Actually, People Do Read Documentation?
Trying to write for every user is one of the most common blunders we make in technical communication. I know it’s sacrilege, but bear with me. The majority of users do not read the documentation. They don’t read documentation because it’s awful, or because it’s written in a language they don’t understand, or because it uses big words. They don’t read documentation because they’re the type of individuals who don’t read it. It’s ingrained in their personality and attitude on life, and nothing you can do with the paperwork can change that.
Of course, you can’t force a user who doesn’t read documentation to do so, but even if you could, they wouldn’t enjoy it because they aren’t the type to read it in the first place.
I’m sure you’re thinking something along those lines. They will watch videos rather than read documentation, thus we should convert all of our manuals to video. However, while some people prefer to learn from a video rather than from text, those who refuse to read instructions are generally those who do not want to be taught.
If you aren’t investing time and resources in this area of your business, many teams will suffer and struggle as a result. On the other hand, reduced support calls, increased productivity and success for teams across your organisation, and passive marketing can all pay for well-written documentation.
When I observe people avoiding documentation, I am reminded of an ancient adage about horses and water. When you have excellent documentation, even the most refractory will see its value and refer to it before spending time trying to solve a challenge by themselves.
3. Some useful tools
Of course, you need the appropriate tool for the appropriate task. You’ve surely come across several lists of technical documentation tools. I definitely have.
So, what will this one bring to the table? The ones I’ve read, on the other hand, rarely offer anything new. And authoring tools are getting a lot of attention. You’re already aware of them.
So this is an attempt to compile a list of valuable technical writing productivity tools, or peripheral tools, that can help you become more productive as a technical writer in many ways. And possibly teach you something you didn’t know before. Let’s get this party started!
Google Meet and Zoom.
You might not immediately think of Google Meet or Zoom as technical documentation tools. However, for a technical writer, producing and constructing the final material for the documentation is only one element of the process. And in times like these, when many organisations must work remotely, being able to communicate quickly with architects, engineers, and reviewers is critical.
You, like me, have probably struggled to get meeting software to function, with regular connectivity troubles, distorted audio, and other challenges. I never looked back after discovering Google Meet. Finally, I had a painless approach to communicate with coworkers, customers, and to conduct technical interviews. Furthermore, with Zoom, you can record your sessions to make sure that you don’t have to rely on partial notes or plain memory.
Snagit is a favourite of many technical authors, which should come as no surprise. It may appear to be a simple screenshot grabber program. But it’s far more handy and powerful than any other screenshot program we’ve seen, with intriguing features like Panoramic Scrolling Capture, which allows you to capture more than just what’s on the screen. I use it as a primary tool. And I know many technical writers agree, not just the ones I know, because the Snagit library’s shapes, arrows, and stamps can be found in help material all over the place.
Visual callouts are simple to make, and you can even make short films for animated gifs to demonstrate a feature or concept in your documentation. If you need a little more power, Camtasia, from the same company, is another great program for making films.
Every company desires detailed, up-to-date documentation. Despite this, documentation being always updated frequently feels like an utopian dream. Maybe your business paperwork used to be a detailed employee manual, painstakingly researched, spiral-bound, and created in-house. But this is the twenty-first century, and no one wants to have something like that.
You might attempt upgrading your documentation by becoming digital. You may put select Word documents in file shares for everyone in your workplace. That would undoubtedly provide you with some useful features. It’s digital, syncs across all of your employees’ computers, and it’s simple to write and edit… provided everyone has Microsoft Word installed.
But what if you need to refer to a document in the middle of a meeting and don’t have access to your computer? Try searching for a certain procedure or significant approach in those Word documents. After all, documenting everything would require a lot of Word documents. Then it’d be far too easy for someone to remove or modify something significant by accident, with the only option to undo the mistake being to restore from a backup. A wiki can bring your documentation dreams to life.
XWiki makes it simple to manage semi-structured data, which is at the heart of every organisation’s knowledge nexus. It makes it simple to manage both organised (such as memberships and projects) and unstructured data in a single system.
XWiki provides a robust API for swiftly developing enterprise apps that are simple to maintain and evolve collaboratively. The skinning and templating system is incredibly versatile and powerful.
While the essential components for transforming XWiki into an advanced semantic system are already in place, several capabilities might be made more readily available to the user to facilitate the use of faceted and typed links, ushering in a new era of collaborative information exchange.
Deepl (for translation)
Is it necessary to translate your documents? Deepl is a fantastic cloud-based translation memory service. A translation memory system “remembers” all previous translations and may match any new text with that memory, displaying complete matches for reuse or “fuzzy” matches for rapid editing.
You need a subscription to get its full potential, but there is also a free version if you only need to create short and quick translations, check the word count, do a content analysis for translation, or something similar.
Ryver is a fantastic cheaper alternative to Slack. It’s a task management and project management messaging app. You can have one-on-one or group conversations… It’s a valuable tool for me because it allows me to review my tasks with my team and discuss any aspects of the assignment that are tough to complete.
If you’re in need of getting your tasks organised, Ryver can help tremendously. It makes creating lists, assigning tasks, and monitoring deadlines a breeze. It’s an excellent tool. It is quite handy to be able to create tasks and assign them to people. The user interface is also quite subtle. The overall experience is fantastic; it simplifies communication between our sites and encourages interaction. You get to discuss critical details about a work or project, assign tasks, and check for completion, which encourages responsibility.
Image: Unplash | @tofi
Technical Writer at Keepler. "I've been a technical writer and instructional designer for different industries for a decade now and I still haven't stopped learning. When I'm not reading and writing about new methodologies you can find me writing science fiction."