Technical Writing: 10 Myths and Facts (Part 2)

continued…

Myth 6: Documentation review can wait. There is a lot of work in development.

There is a lot of work in documentation too. The SMEs should understand that product release can slip if the documentation is not ready on time. Hence, timely review of documentation is very important. To overcome this problem, you should try to make documentation an integral part of the software development life cycle (SDLC). It will help in ensuring that:

    • The documentation review is included in the schedules of the reviewers.
    • Review comments are returned to writers on time.
    • Writers are informed of necessary changes in the product much in advance of deadlines for them to make the necessary modifications.

Fact: Documentation can’t wait. If it does, so will the product release.

Myth 7: What does a technical writer do? Just write!

Most of the people assume that technical writers just write. According to them, it is an easy task and hence they don’t respect this profession. People will realize the importance of technical writing and view it with value and respect only when they understand the following:

    • The actual work profile of a technical writer.
    • The other skills apart from writing which are equally important.
    • The problems/issues associated with this profession.
    • The process of documentation is also a process of product testing and quality control. This is because, writers observe and report problems and weaknesses in the product that may affect the users.
    • The document is an integral part of product delivery. Unless the documentation is ready, the software cannot be released!

Awareness is the key that will get you the due respect. Spread awareness about the responsibilities of the technical writers, atleast in the organization you work in.

Fact: Writing constitutes only about 40% of the writers job.

Myth 8: Technical writers have nothing much to do.

This is an extension of the previous myth! A technical writer has to perform so many other tasks other than just writing and performing the related activities as a part of the documentation process:

    • Multitask: Work on different projects and products at different stages of completion.
    • Organize: Keep projects in order and to prioritize the work
    • Keep your cool: Deal with crises and deadlines when they occur.
    • Manage: Keep track of various statuses and results, and follow up with a number of people. It is about self management along with project and time management.
    • Training: You can be a part of the corporate training group to train engineers and staff in communication and writing skills.
    • Review: Review the user interface and the usability of the products. Enter defects to formalize the processes.

Fact: Technical writers often have to work on multiple projects at a given point of time.

Myth 9: Why technical writers? SMEs can do the job just as well.

Some people think that SMEs can create documentation. They are probably right, but not 100% right.

    • Time required to produce the documentation would be reduced because they need not learn and/or understand the technology, concepts, and functionalities. Some SMEs are good writers. But being a good writer does not make them good technical writers because they do not know what to write and how to write. Hence, a technical writer will still have to spend time editing the document, focusing at certain aspects like organization of information and stylistic factors to make it usable and useful. The professional writers are more efficient in their job and produce high quality documentation. They are trained to structure documents, put together information to make it easy to understand, and perform other related writing activities.

Fact: An SME may be a good writer, but not a good technical writer.

    • It is a general assumption that since the engineers know the application better than anyone else, they can write about it better. The first part of the sentence is true—no one knows the product better than the people who have created it. But this very fact (their familiarity with the product) becomes a major disadvantage. Technical writers, on the other hand, can think and ask questions as a user would.

Fact: The writers are trained to convert the mistakes, assumptions, work around, shortcuts, and questions, into usable and valid information.

    • The engineers will not be able to focus on the areas of their core competency—coding, programming, designing, or trouble shooting, etc. The engineers may lose their concentration as it takes them away from their primary task of creating the software. Trying to stretch themselves too much across functions reduces their quality and productivity. It is better to be the master of the trade and do the work well and meet the required deadlines, instead of trying to perform tasks they are not trained or required to do.

Fact: Technical writers are trained to perform the documentation related tasks just as the developers are trained to do theirs!

Myth 10: There is no need to involve technical writers in the product development phase.

As a result of this thought, some organizations do not take documentation seriously.

    • They do not even have dedicated staff or process for the documentation efforts.
    • The writers are not involved in the early stages of product development.
    • Sometimes they are expected to produce user manuals without even having access to the product or having any valid information. On the other hand, involving the writers in early stages of the product development phase, is not only advantageous to the writer, but to the product team as well:
    • It gives the writers an idea of various stages of development of the product. They can make an accurate documentation plan based on the information they get from these early interactions.
    • They can complete the documentation on time.
    • This will allow the writers to get involved in the user interface (UI) review. They can make appropriate suggestions for changes to the user interface early in the product development phase

Fact: Technical writers should be involved in the project from the early stages of product development phase.

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