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December 16, 2013

Marginalizing tech comm with four little words

“I’m just the writer.”

For your 2014 New Year’s resolution, please stop yourself from verbalizing those words if they pop into your head. I ask this as someone who has both thought and said (doh!) those very words, especially during my early tech writing career.

Many companies are grappling with a common problem in their technical content. The content covers the what but it is light on the why and how. As a result, frustrated customers call support and create a financial double-whammy: a great deal of money is wasted on shallow, unhelpful technical content, and that costly failure is compounded by the additional support costs.

One way to deepen the context in your content is by providing rich, real-world examples that illustrate the why and how. Unfortunately, the only way you can develop those examples is by truly understanding the products you’re documenting.

Does this mean you need to become a product developer? Nope. But you do need to communicate and collaborate with product developers/SMEs more on their level. These days, a lot of SMEs are being asked to contribute content, so it’s not unreasonable for you to contribute your brainpower to a deeper understanding of your employer’s products.

So, next time you feel yourself flailing in a mire of technical detail about the product you’re documenting, take a deep breath and fight the temptation to fall into the trap of “I’m just a writer.” You must be more more than a stenographer and desktop publisher for product developers. Don’t let anyone—particularly yourself—marginalize tech writing in such a manner. If we act (or are merely viewed) as stenographers, there is little value placed on the content we create.

And that is when tech comm becomes expendable.

Cover from record for practicing stenography. Shows record player, typewriter, and rotary phone.

Stenography in tech comm is as forward-thinking as record players, typewriters, and rotary phones (flickr: epiclectic).