Creative Technical Writing
Creative and technical?
Early in my career, someone once said to me “creative writing and technical writing are not mutually exclusive”. I’ve thought a lot about what that means in the years since.
We wouldn’t typically associate creativity with technical documentation. After all, technical documentation is meant to focus on facts and details, and be, well, very technical about everything.
However, we would be doing our customers a great disservice if we separated creativity from our documentation. This doesn’t mean that customer support would suddenly be inundated with plot, character development and a personal voice, but rather that we consider our customers’ problems from a variety of positions and find one or many solutions to that problem. The solutions are not always the obvious ones; this is where we must be creative writers.
Let your creative side bring out the best on your technical side.
When approaching issues with documentation, first perform a thorough analysis. The root cause analysis can also be a creative process, where we need to take time to understand the problem, which may be different from the complaint. We do this using our experience and relying on our gut feeling, and networking with our subject matter experts to understand what went wrong. Then we figure out why the problem exists – was there a technical limitation? A mismatch of user expectation and writer intent? A misunderstanding of the customers’ needs? After we do a critical analysis of what the customers’ needs are, onto the creative part – a solution.
- Update the content. This is often the format a complaint about documentation takes: that something is wrong. Perhaps something was incorrect or not complete. You may just need to update what’s there. But outside of updating the content, there are other solutions we use to alleviate the frustration that a customer may be feeling.
- Take out. Outdated information may be lurking in the content and simply needs to be removed. Or the content is still accurate, but may be an old concept by now and has become commonly understood and unnecessary. Anything that isn’t actively contributing to users’ success needs to go.
- Get the voice right. If you are unclear about who your audience is, or the writing is vague, then you will lead your users astray. Make sure you’ve got the right tone and voice when you’re speaking to your users and eliminate any ambiguity.
- Check if the right information is in the wrong place. Moving the content elsewhere might provide a missing puzzle piece that users need to achieve their goal.
- Think more about your audience. Have you provided too much or too little information? Both cause our users varying degrees of frustration. Too little, and they can’t complete the task. Too much, and they are forced to sift through unnecessary filler to get what they really need.
- Choose a medium that’s right for the message. Is the task too cumbersome to follow? A video may be an easier way to show the user what to do. Difficult concepts may be explained better with graphics.
Whatever the needs are from technical documentation or customer support, it is worth taking some time to fully understand the problem. This requires considering every element of the product and what new and creative solutions could work best for the user. Being innovative about our documentation is key to our customers’ success.