Asking the Right Questions Adds Value

The technical information for a product that is still in development does not often “live” in any one person’s head. It’s my job as a technical writer (or technical communicator, the title many of us prefer) to scout out the disparate pieces of technical information in the organization and to assemble those pieces into a coherent instruction, description, or structure.

How many times have you had two or more technical reviewers contradict each other in their documentation mark-ups, as to how the functionality works? This occurrence is not surprising, because developers are often responsible for their particular cylo of the code, and it is not until documentation review time, that individual contributors have the opportunity to reflect on how the parts fit together.

How often have you noticed inconsistent terminology between the marketing literature and User Interface (even across the same User Interface) and mediated between the different disciplines to adhere to consistent terms?  Or have you ever noticed lots of steps in your install instructions that might be better incorporated in the installer itself?

In other cases, we know as experienced technical communicators that if a feature or piece of functionality is really difficult to explain, then there is probably something still rough, counter-intuitive, or outright missing in the product’s functionality or design.

In all these situations, a good technical communicator, aided by an iterative documentation review process, can help facilitate product development. By asking the right questions, technical communicators can get the right people talking to each other, about how the product works, or should work, as a whole.

In the process, technical communicators can help you develop a product that needs less documentation, saving you the associated costs, and offering you instead more complete or intuitive functionality.

What other ways does a technical communicator add value to product development? In your experience, what are the most succesful ways technical communicators can quantify the value they add to upper management?

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Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog

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