As global businesses and consumers are looking for proper documentation to accompany the products they buy, not in the last place because maintenance/service has become more important, the need for high-quality technical information is vital and ultimately the key to a company’s success. This brings up technical writing challenges, and we’ll be discussing these as well as some solutions.
Over the past decade, many Western companies have decided to outsource some of their functions to best-cost countries like India and China, including technical writing. At the same time, more Asian companies are going global with their products and therefore also see a need to meet global standards, including those for technical documentation.
A challenge that generally remains, however, is the assurance that documentation meets certain quality standards. For example, technical information should be clear and concise, and it should not be possible to distinguish where the original author of the manual comes from.
How to deal with these technical writing challenges deserves a bit more in-depth analysis.
Technical writing has become an upcoming profession over the last few years, for example in India, only being succeeded by jobs like engineering and management. Although the majority of these technical writing jobs are with software and web development companies, other industries like manufacturing, telecom, medical and energy also see a growth in technical writing needs. The same trend can be seen in China, although there we also see many Chinese companies going global with their products.
Multi-faceted audience of technical documentation
Technical writing is a shared effort as not only writers are involved, but also engineers and SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) who have a lot of knowledge about their products but may lack the skills of a technical writer. In addition, multiple writers usually contribute to one manual. Content created by a technical writer usually doesn’t only end up in technical manuals, but also in social media, online help, video tutorials and even in augmented reality applications.
A technical writer must write for a global audience, but also work with colleagues (read: SMEs) from different countries. In other words, you will have technical writers with different technical, cultural and language backgrounds create content for end users who also have different technical, cultural and language backgrounds.
The needed skill-set for a technical writer
Next, we need to look at what skills are required from a technical writer, as there usually aren’t (with a few exceptions there) formal training courses for technical writing offered by Universities:
- Technical and analytical skills: to help you understand the SME and the product so you can explain it clearly to the audience you’re writing for.
- Writing skills: to write content that is clear, consistent and concise, but also apply structure and style in accordance with standards (e.g. DITA or S1000D if you’re an aerospace of defense company) and style guides, including Simplified Technical English and the Microsoft Manual of Style.
- Tools skills: to know various technical writing tools, specifically XML authoring tools and content management systems.
Overall, a good technical writer can adopt a wide array of topics to the extent that they can provide clear, understandable content for several audiences. Style guides and writing standards are a great way to help you achieve clarity, consistency and conciseness in technical information, but how do you enforce them, and what about getting consensus on what terminology to use? Simplified Technical English, for example, requires that one word can only have one meaning. Moreover, training is also essential as it not only helps you learn the writing rules and how to apply them, but also to distinguish the nice-to-know from the need-to-know.
We can help at Etteplan.
We have trained over 3,000 technical writers worldwide and assisted companies with building terminology databases with both approved and non-approved terms to help achieve clarity and consistency in writing. In addition, we offer HyperSTE, a checker tool that plugs in to your authoring environment to help technical writers create content that is engaging, uniform and cost effective, regardless of where it is created.
Want to know more? Ask us!