“Did you inform Documentation about the changes we made?”
If you have been in the technical writing field, you would have often heard this sort of question from managers of technical teams. You don’t need to be a genius to notice that technical writers came as an afterthought. Everything had been discussed, decisions taken, and the feature or the ‘change’ to a feature had been implemented in the product. Now, all that was required was to inform the Documentation team. Normal? Yes. But that means you are stuck in the past.
Today, technical writers and user interface designers are on par with the development teams when it comes to decision-making on the product. Right at the start of the product development process, a technical writer is quite likely to tell the technical teams what makes sense to an average user and what doesn’t – imagine this feedback coming in to product management after the product is out in the market! It is also quite possible that a technical writer suggests an easier workaround to a roadblock in product development.
Perhaps, the most important change in recent years is that Documentation or User Assistance is no longer an excuse for bad product design or misjudged product behavior. Earlier, if bad product design or behavior slipped through the cracks, technical teams informed the technical writer to write about it in relevant sections in the appropriate guide. But now, with technical writers becoming part of the process that designs the product in the first place, the chances for such slips have been minimized. The important thing is to appreciate that everyone – product managers, developers, QA engineers, support engineers, documentation/user assistance experts, and usability designers – has an equal stake in product development. Everyone is accountable and everyone contributes to the thought process and to the development of the product. No one is merely informed and no one takes the higher ground.
Today, if you work as a technical writer with a company that’s in touch with the present, you are more likely to hear, “What about User Assistance? Have you taken their opinion?”
The author is co-founder and Director, Content Development at Steta