Show Me the Manual

“So, you think technical writing isn’t persuasive?”

That’s what the Director of Graduate Writing Programs philosophically asked us, as first year technical writing students.

After some debate, she finally offered, “Your main job as technical writers is to convince your audience to read the instructions and to complete the task, at hand…”

I’ve remembered my instructor’s words, all these years.

Given how reluctant most customers are to admit defeat and to turn to the documentation in the first place, I’d say that good technical writers are among the most skilled rhetoricians there are.

Convincing others to complete a desired series of steps—or more subtlely, to accept a given structural metaphor about the way your product works (often known as frameworks, platforms, solutions, features, and functions in heavy-duty technical manuals)—that’s persuasion.

Emotion accounts for most of our day-to-day decisions, but it’s logic that accounts for long-term change.

Perhaps that’s why, in my experience, technical writers are most often naturally allied with sales, especially in business to business.

In these settings–with a much longer buying cycle–I’ve never ever met someone from sales who didn’t value the technical documentation. Come acquisition and merger time, believe me, that B2B audience wants the details.

Product documentation signs deals.

When it comes to sales that equate to thousands of dollars and beyond—show me the manual.

About This Blog: Copyright Information

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

Content Strategy: Building Context & Relationships thru Product Documentation

My last post about motivating readers in technical communication made me recall an informal meeting with Valeria Maltoni (otherwise known as Conversation Agent), at the Inbound Marketing Summit last fall, in Boston, MA.

At the time, I had just read Maltoni’s post, Service: Product Experience and Content Strategy.

In her series on content strategy, Maltoni had explained how “every communication a company organizes is an opportunity to build context through content — and relationships as an outcome.”

During our brief but engaging exchange, I told Maltoni how much this excerpt from her post resonated with me, in my role as a technical communicator:

This is the phase where marketing tends to walk away, because somehow embracing customers is customer service’s job. Product manuals, service agreements, contracts — these are all marketing, whether you see it that way or not.

While chatting, I mentioned to Maltoni how my graduate program in Technical and Professional Writing had provided a good introduction to principles from classic rhetoric. I also expressed how surprised I was, when I first started working as a technical writer in industry (now years ago), to find how little alignment there often is in practice, between our respective disciplines.

Maltoni readily understood the connection between product documentation and marketing. So too, does Aaron Fulkerson, CEO of MindTouch, who in
the Forbes article, The Evolution of User Manuals, describes how product and services documentation is now a core business asset.

And you? For the marketers out there, do you view product documentation as a way to build relationships, with potential new customers? For technical communicators, what do you think about Ellis Pratt’s recent Intercom article, calling for more emotion in technical communication, as a way to help nurture loyal customers?

About This Blog: Copyright Information

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