When is the last time you held a technical manual or other piece of technical writing in your hand….and actually read it? Technical manuals are often sadly brushed aside and forgotten until one desperate moment 9 months later. However, a lot of work goes into producing it and we should take a moment to appreciate the technical writers behind these boring documents.
Technical writers and translators are a vital part of any tech company’s global success. They carefully craft documentation that effectively breaks down very complicated technology and explain it in a way that novices can understand.
The resulting document becomes the first port of call for users when they use a product for the first time, and also acts as reference material that will be used for as long as the product is.
Let’s take a look at what exactly technical writing involves dealing with on a daily basis.
Subject. Matter. Experts. (SMEs)
These guys are full of useful information and are pretty vital for any technical material. They fully validate content and help articles stand out in their domain. However, because they’re so useful, writers are constantly competing for SME’s precious time to get information about particular projects. When they finally obtain this information, they may have to act as “translators” because SMEs may not have the time to fully explain concepts in layman’s terms.
Limited access to a product
Not being able to ‘play’ with the product, be it software, an app, or device, really limits the comprehension of the writer. This then leads to more pressure on communications with the SME for accurate information. Context material (such as screenshots or click paths) can also prove scarce, potentially effecting the quality of the finalized documentation.
Poorly defined and managed projects
Ownership of the responsibilities for projects is often not well defined, making it very complicated for the technical writer to figure out their place in it all. This can result in projects that effectively hang in limbo, prolonging the stress of the project.
Technical writers also have to handle changes to a product’s features, which can happen last-minute before the product goes live or is about to be shipped. Usually one of the main reasons this happens is because often technical writers are only involved in the last stages of product development and this often results in hurried and potentially mistake-prone editing.
Work overload and time pressures
There are days where everything is “urgent”. Due to the particular priorities of companies, technical writers frequently have extremely tight deadlines and high workloads – especially with ever looming product release dates. Also, no matter the planned schedule, there are always urgent tasks that come in out of nowhere and should be prioritized without changes to the original schedule.
Problems with managers
When it comes to technical writing, managers fall somewhere on a scale of complete micro-management to complete lack-of-management. At one extreme, managers limit the independence and control on all aspects of the writing process, whereas at the other extreme, they don’t provide any support, respect, or acknowledgement at all.
Computer and tool problems
Due to the high-tech nature of the content, technical writers have to use numerous tools for document development, editing, project management, and graphics development. Such workflow complexity is bound to cause issues, including the installation of new software, taking the time to learn how to use it, access to relevant files, and converting to other formats.
As outlined above, technical writers have to deal with many different issues as part of their daily work. From smaller issues like installing the necessary tools and implementing last-minute changes, to larger issues like dealing with over- or under-active managers and getting thorough explanations from SMEs. Being a technical writer certainly is challenging, but it is also extremely rewarding knowing that your carefully crafted documentation will help millions of users.