Why Do Documentation?
After all, isn't your software or process completely intuitive and self-explanatory?
Aren't your technical trainers dedicated, talented, and hard working?
Don't your customers already have expert users on-site who can explain things to new employees?
And don't you provide your customers with world-class help-desk service?
The answer, of course, is yes, yes, yes, yes, but...
All of these answers rely on "institutional memory" and having key people available when answers are needed.
Of course your software or process is intuitive to those who designed it; and it is likely intuitive to others with a similar cultural and educational background. But your customers come from many backgrounds, and they need to know how to use your product even when the procedures are not self-evident to them.
Technical trainers are important human assets, but they cannot be everywhere. Your customers (and your employees) need access to information whether or not the technical trainer is available.
Expert users are a wonderful resource for the customers who have them. But what about your new customers? And what if the "expert user" leaves the company?
Although help-desk support often has the advantage of 24/7 availability, the help desk can be swamped with calls that customers could more easily resolve with effective documentation. And fewer calls means happier customers.
The Documentation Solution
Quality technical documentation solves these problems and saves money by increasing both customer satisfaction and employee productivity.
- Finding answers in well-written, well-indexed documentation and online help files is almost always faster than calling the help desk. And with shorter downtime to look for answers, customer satisfaction with the product goes up.
- Well-written "Quick-Start" guides get new customers off and running with your product. They supplement and reinforce the information provided by your technical trainers.
- Professional documentation adds value to your customer deliverables and assures customers that they have the tools they need to succeed with your product.
- Accurate documentation for internal consumption — procedures, policies, configuration settings, APIs and the like — improves productivity and insulates your company from the loss of key employees.
- Effective online help and documentation reduces unnecessary help-desk calls, freeing up your employees to resolve more serious customer problems with greater efficiency.
Why Use a Technical Writer?
Can't your developers write the documentation for the software they've coded? After all, who knows the code better than they do?
Why can't your testers write the documentation? Or your engineers?
Simply put, developers, testers, and engineers all have the skillsets needed to perform their jobs, and technical writers have the skills to write clear, accurate and useful documentation and help files. You would no more ask a technical writer to code the user interface than you would your podiatrist; so why ask your developers to write user guides?
Often, those who create and test your product — software particularly — are too familiar with processes to accurately document them. Developers, testers, and engineers may omit basic steps which they perform a dozen times a day, not out of carelessness but because familiarity does breed contempt, and "obvious" steps are left out either because they are assumed to be obvious or because they are so automatic that the developer, tester, or engineer does not even think about performing them anymore.
A good technical writer knows how to avoid that trap and always see the product clearly and without the bias of assumptions or familiarity. He or she documents all procedures, even the "obvious" ones, which are often essential to performing a task.
By virtue of his or her experience and training, a good technical writer knows how to see your product from the user's point of view, and to provide the information the user needs. Terms are explained, synonyms and cross-references are inserted, and the documentation is well-indexed so users can quickly find the information they need.
A technical writer can clearly and concisely explain complex processes or concepts because above all, he or she knows how to write well.