How Startups Can Benefit From Early Investment in Professional Technical Writing
First of all, let’s define what professional technical writing is. At first, technical writing was defined as “the practice of documenting processes, such as software manuals or instructional materials.” But today, technical writing is instead associated with the documentation of all complex technical processes, including reports, executive summary statements, briefs… Any time technical information is conveyed in writing at work, it is, by definition, technical writing. So how can young startups use a professional technical communication process to their advantage?
Young tech companies often have a strong focus on the development and growth of their main product. This can be a whole range of products or just a single product, such as specialized software. Usability may have a high priority during the product design process, but this is not always the case for highly technical products as, for these, the fulfillment of the technical specification is the main focus. On the other hand, regulatory compliance is essential for products in strictly regulated markets like medical products or machinery. Some regulations, however, also might have been ignored until now. Let’s have a look at how a professional technical writing process can help.
A Professional Technical Communication Process Reveals Usability Issues
When drafting technical documentation, the main task of a technical writer is to ask questions: Who uses the product? What is the product for? What do users need to do? What do they need to know so that they can use the product safely? Do they require special tools or software?
The main benefit of having someone in your company going around asking these questions is that your product’s usability problems will be revealed in this process. Is changing a worn-out part in your product excruciatingly complicated? If no one has noticed until now – the person that has to describe the procedure certainly will.
This approach won’t change the design of existing products, as they have probably already been rolled out. But having customer-friendly technical information will definitely enhance the user’s experience. Changing that worn-out part might still be tedious, but without the user guide it might be downright impossible or dangerous.
Revealing Compliance and Localization Problems
Compliance problems with your products will probably also pop up during the technical writing process. When the technical writer asks for the EU declaration of conformity or for the risk analysis for the product, it’s the moment of truth for the engineering department. Documents and data required for drafting high-quality user documentation might also be needed for the internal technical documentation of the product according to regulations like the machinery directive. Thus, gathering this information helps create adequate and precise technical documentation and to fulfill regulatory requirements at the same time.
In most cases, the information accompanying the product will have to be localized for the target market (even if you think it’s not mandatory, it is a necessary step). Besides being a regulatory requirement, non-observance can cause liability issues and prevent the import of your product. Furthermore, non-professional documentation will be much more expensive and difficult to translate. Addressing translation in the writing process will reduce localization costs drastically.
Information for the Future
Technical writing isn’t limited to the good old printed user manual. New standards in technical communication make possible new ways of providing users with information right when and where they need it. But to make use of these new channels, the information has to be gathered and organized first.
A professional technical writing process won’t just provide your product with the required documentation – it will empower the whole product development process, resulting in better usability and prevention of compliance issues. The organized information structures will streamline internal processes and enable your company to work on new information concepts.
For small and young companies, hiring a full-time technical writer might not be an option. In that case, take advantage of online courses such as the TCTrainNet program and the TCLoc Master’s, or organize a workshop or training with a local technical communication provider. Anyway, get started! Working harder on your technical writing might improve way more things than you expect.