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Technical Writers: More Than Documentation Specialists

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Technical writers provide considerable value to any project, beyond a documented set of instructions. While the product documentation is an integral part of a solution, technical writers also integrate into various team processes and provide feedback to improve the product itself. This approach keeps the user or customer in mind—technical writers advocate for their audience at every turn. This blog uses the technical writer’s role in software and cloud service development as an example of value that technical writers provide. This value extends further because role-based silos are breaking down: writers are included in the various stakeholder conversations more than ever.

Technical Writers and Subject Matter Experts

It all begins with the important internal conversations and planning between technical writers and product managers, software developers, quality assurance testers, and trial representatives, to name a few. Writers collect these various perspectives and synthesize what is relevant to their audience—just the right amount of detail (and the right kind of detail for the intended audience) without information overload. These internal exchanges can also shape the direction of the project. On teams with good cross-functional rapport, technical writers provide a crucial voice. With early access to development, demos, or the product itself, they can take on the role of the user. By becoming bona fide product testers, they learn potential “pain points” that can be acknowledged and addressed in the documentation or, ideally, in the product itself. Which brings us to another important relationship in this process...

Technical Writers and User Experience

Technical writers and user experience (UX) specialists are peas in a pod: writers suggest wording in an interface, which influences the UX design of the screen and vice versa. These collaborative efforts move towards the goal of a frictionless experience for the user. Like technical writers engaging with the development team, it’s best when UX is involved early so everyone can start collaborating and think about what customers need. Now more than ever, people are in front of their screens; a clear, intuitive interface is key, and that includes the wording in the interface. In addition to clear documentation, an intuitive interface goes a long way when it comes to user confidence; they can comfortably remain in their workflow and refer out to documentation as needed. Technical writers who work on UX know that development in this area is as integral to the success of a project as effective documentation.

Technical Writers and Support Agents

While the goal of product documentation is to help customers and reduce the overhead on support staff, inevitably people pick up the phone to call in for help. This opens opportunities for a relationship between writers and support agents. For tech writers, support agents provide invaluable perspective, because they know the pain points that customers experience. Support agents use the product documentation to help customers and can identify information gaps for the documentation team to fill. Depending on the project, this relationship between writers and support agents can lead to collaborations on chat bot content that targets specific audience members – for example, groups who need to be notified of an important change that might require a system upgrade and, as a result, some downtime in their environment. Working together, technical writers and support agents can craft content that directly addresses the issues that customers may encounter.

Technical Writers and Marketing

In some cases, the “brand” documentation and technical documentation that accompany a product are on separate tracks, but these streams are coming together. Now, there is more collaboration between technical writers and marketing personnel. This relationship ensures that both sides know what documentation is being produced—avoiding duplication and ensuring consistency with branding. Both sides come together to develop more effective content that encourages customer adoption: typically, content that tells a story about the company and their product and connects with the audience early in the process. Pairing a story that connects to people along with helpful information about how to use the product can be a potent combination.

Technical Writers and Their Audience

With fewer communication barriers and a more prevalent online community, there are more opportunities for technical writers to find out what really makes their audience tick—and how better to do that than directly from the source? Community forums for a product provide a wealth of information about what customers want to know, what issues they’re having, how they’re interacting with documentation, and more. The documentation itself may also have a method for customers to rate how effective it is or even submit feedback. This encourages the audience to speak up, and writers love to listen. No matter how much planning occurs through the internal organization, the eye-opening moments are in these customer interactions.

Conclusion

Technical writers provide value to a project that extends beyond just documentation. Through ongoing collaboration with key players throughout the lifespan of a project, technical writers make contributions that put their audience first and help them achieve their goals.