Have you ever read a software or hardware manual that was more confusing than helpful?
Chances are, that manual wasn’t written with the user in mind. In fact, it was probably written just to fill a delivery requirement. That’s right, the user was probably the last thing on the writer’s mind once that product crept past the delivery deadline. And now the unfortunate user is left alone and confused, reading this pesky afterthought called “the manual”.
“How could this happen?” the user asks, “What about my needs?”
“It’s not you,” replies the writer, “It’s me.” [Writer pulls off Scooby-Doo-style face mask to reveal the technical genius who designed and built the product but actually hates writing about it.]
This is the drama that often unfolds when the technical expert also plays the role of technical writer.
Don’t get me wrong, I have worked with many brilliant technology innovators and subject matter experts, including engineers, software developers, geoscientists, and industrial manufacturers. Some are very good writers. But when it comes to documenting the technology you created, it’s best to leave that to trained documentation specialists.
To be blunt, the technical expert shouldn’t write the manual. Here’s why:
- Technical experts have better things to do with their time. Let’s see…you just built a cutting-edge piece of technology and now you’re sitting there writing the manual for it? Your brain cells are probably more valuable to the company when you do what you do best: innovating, developing, troubleshooting.
- Technical experts know too much. When you’re so close to the technology, you may wrongly assume that the user’s knowledge level is similar to yours. This means that when writing the manual, you may use unfamiliar terminology or skip seemingly insignificant but important steps because you’ve taken for granted the user’s needs, skills, or educational background.
- Technical experts often revert to showcasing the cool features instead of just explaining how the product works. Showing enthusiasm for your technology (or what I affectionately call “geeking out”) is commendable in many circumstances, but in a user manual, it’s best to use an objective tone in plain language that is suitable for the target audience. This makes the manual easier to read so that the user can “get on with their work”.
So if the technical expert shouldn’t write the manual, who should?
Well, there are technical writers out there who actually like to document procedures and workflows for a living. They can parachute in and collaborate with subject matter experts to compile accessible, well-designed technology manuals from scratch. These writers can also take your existing draft procedures and transform them into user guides and training manuals written specifically for your target audience.
What are the benefits of hiring a technical writer?
- You can focus on improving the technology instead of improving the manual.
- You will get a high quality manual designed for your users.
- Your company can achieve long-term cost-savings, especially since a well-written and sustainable manual can save on support time, optimize expert resources, and enhance product image.
Ask us about how we can save you time in your next manual writing project.