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Quality from Collaboration: Getting more from your documentation

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Relationships are the key to creating quality, usable content.

As technical writers, we need to address our users’ complex needs by supporting the myriad of variables in their deployment environments and administration. So, we must rely on our network of subject matter experts to develop these solutions. Technical writers are experts in many things – writing, instructional design, audience analysis, feature testing and research – but it is our professional relationships, and our collaboration through them, that become the key to creating quality, usable content.

Our primary collaborators are our customers.

We reach out to them during research phases to find out how they use the product and what their needs are. We correct defects in the documentation that they find while testing our instructions in real environments. We work with them during early field trials to gauge what is working for them and what isn’t. It’s a collaborative, iterative process and, although demanding, ensures that we have our finger on the pulse to deliver what they need.

The documentation building blocks come from the engineers on the product technical team. They give us the specific details that become the guts of our work, such as steps on how to configure a feature. Our collaboration with them is frequent and iterative. They rely on us to ensure the features they create are made visible to our customers, and we rely on them to provide us with all of the nitty gritty details that we shape into customer-facing documentation.

The Product Owners provide insight into the business need for a feature, what gap it fills in the industry, or what problem it solves. If the engineers tell us the “how”, then the Product Owners tell us the “why”. With that information, we can provide contextual overviews or reference information to our customers. It helps to shape what focus and level of detail we provide in the documentation when we know what goal our customer must accomplish using our software.

Technical support teams are a very useful internal customer.

They manage customers who are struggling with our product. They often turn to documentation to look for solutions or ensure installation and configuration were done properly. We need to use their experiences to improve structural, accuracy, and usability issues. Addressing the pain points of the technical support team in our documentation can save a company serious time and money by making the solutions easier and quicker to find, or even eliminate a call to support altogether. Investing time to pick their brains for insights into our customers’ needs yields highly valuable feedback.

In your collaboration with SMEs, everyone brings something different to the table that is essential to documentation quality. All that’s left to do is the writing!