Technical writing is often an unspoken, and sometimes unheard of, process across business and technology sectors. Many leading R&D centers are bursting with bright spark engineers, sharp-minded designers, and idea generators who make products and services come to life. However, this doesn’t mean that they can explain their product or service accurately or concisely. Ultimately, the true value of a product or service is not measured by the team that built it, or even the brand stamped on it, but by the users who adopt it, use it, learn it, and advocate for it.
Consider your most recent tech purchase; you probably didn’t think of the thousands of hours it took to design, code, prototype, and finalize it in order for you to unbox it. Your first thought was more along the lines of “I’ve owned a device similar to this one before; I know how to use it already.”
And then something unexpected occurs:
- Maybe the setting for changing the device’s display isn’t where you thought it would be.
- You can’t find where your most recent app has downloaded to.
- An error is displaying, your screen is frozen, and you don’t know what the error means or how to resolve it.
Naturally, you want to solve your problem so you can continue using your new device. You’ll likely turn to Google for answers, or go directly to the manufacturer’s website. After all, who else knows the device better than the people who made it?
Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
Time after time, products and services do not have the documentation required for users to understand them easily or intuitively. In our rapidly globalizing world, products and services from all sectors are crossing borders and finding new users and new markets to enter, but few of them have a foundational database of easy to read, easy to understand information that precisely details the what’s, the how’s, or the why’s of it.
A 2011 study by Accenture reported that almost 95% of consumer electronics returns are not attributed to defects, and that one leading cause of product returns is poor or improper documentation. This means that customers are returning products they cannot understand or trust, and bad documentation can lead to major financial losses. In 2005, pharmaceutical giant Merck was ordered to pay USD 253.45 million for liabilities associated with poorly marketed dangers regarding their painkiller and arthritis medication Vioxx. Jurors concluded that the scientific documentation was confusing, and did not assist consumers in a truthful manner.
Such disastrous events can be avoided if care is taken to ensure a well-planned documentation process is developed right at the source. While R&D centers are filled with the talent needed to make ideas happen, the talent needed to make these ideas comprehensible and accessible is what makes a technical writer a valued component. Without a technical writer, the efforts of your engineers and designers and strategists may not effectively translate out to your customers if all you are producing is clunky, misinformed, or even downright wrong documentation.