3MarTechnical documentation: expendable or essential?
I’ve been exposed to the technical writing scene for quite some time. When I first made the switch from programming to technical writing (eons ago), I have to admit I was kind of shocked by how technical writing was viewed by others.
Coming from the programming scene, I can tell you from first hand experience that programmers were viewed as valuable resources, often the targets of multiple companies competing to offer them jobs. Unfortunately documentation and those who produce it aren’t always viewed in the same light.
Many technical writers will tell you that documentation is often one of the first things that get cut when times get tough. This is quite unfortunate because documentation forms part of the “package” upon which users judge the quality of your product and your company. I’ve always believed that documentation should be no more expendable than your company’s development team, support people or your accountants.
That being said, documentation needs to be planned properly and more formally than it often is, in order to get the best return on investment. So here are a few things to consider for your documentation plan:
• Do I need someone fulltime? You may need someone fulltime if you have a complicated product which has a big learning curve and/or on going documentation to maintain.
• Do I need someone temporarily or permanent? This is a very different question than the previous one and a very important one which must not be taken lightly. (note: if you plan to rehire the same contractor every 6 months, they could be considered your employee by the tax man).
• When will the act of creating documentation take place? ie: at what point during the development phase?
• Are my plans for documentation an afterthought? Ie: in cases where the product has already been shipped, but users are crying for information, you need to be honest in answering this question.
• What attributes do I need to look for in a technical writer? Ie: if you need programmer documentation, then someone who writes poetry isn’t going to cut it.
• How will my technical writer work with my organization? Ie: will we provide them with point form notes, will they interview and extract information from our developers etc.
I’ve always believed that a technical writing consultancy firm is the best approach because this business model provides the best of all worlds:
• A technical background enabling us to work directly with your technical people and to ask the right questions
• Flexibility to take on projects of different sizes and scopes
• On going service only when you need it, without the commitment of paying for a fulltime resource
So regardless of which way you choose to go, be sure to take some time to plan your documentation just as you would plan your development or other business functions.
Share this article:
- November 2013
- October 2013
- August 2013
- June 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- November 2012
- September 2012
- July 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- November 2010
- September 2010