For many years, I have been thinking about the “process” of creating technical documentation.
When I share my “10 Steps” with other technical communicators, I typically absorb many of their unique “processes” – thus refining my own approach! So the following “10 Steps” has grown into an efficient and on-going crowd-sourcing exercise.
Another twist: I try to keep “tools” out of this process, which I know can be difficult, as “the medium can often be the message” (to paraphrase the great Marshall McLuhan). A tool that lets me “block” information may get structured differently, for example. I also don’t focus on project planning, which is a key part of mapping out milestones and hitting deadlines!
But I would like to get your thoughts. When constructing an online help center, a user manual, a quick start guide, or even an instructional video, etc., what are some basic steps you regularly take – or questions you regularly ask – as you build the materials?
Take a look at these steps and send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org! Let’s improve the basic process so that new tech writers gain a head start on developing their own processes!
- Audience Analysis: What are the key questions did we need to answer for users? What were the most frequent friction points? What are trying to solve? What existing knowledge does the user have?
- Subject Matter Expert Interview: What SME knowledge will be valuable for users? Does this knowledge need to be broken into smaller, manageable parts? What terms did the SME use that needed to be defined?
- Product Usage: Use the product as a new and expert user would; learn the industry knowledge and nomenclature of a typical user. What are they trying to accomplish? What challenges do you face as a new user? What are common pain points would drive you to contact a Help Support team?
- Taxonomy Building: Which technical terms needed to be explained? What style guide should be applied? Do we need a glossary?
- Design Analysis: What brand format do I use? What logo? What company colors? What fonts?
- Structure Analysis: Do users need to follow a linear process? If yes, apply numbered steps. Or is this more of a troubleshooting asset? If yes, rank Q&A by most to least popular?
- Visual/Graphic Analysis: Will images add value? Do they need to be embellished with arrows, highlighters, etc? Should we show realistic “in use” photos? Or should we use artwork?
- Review Process: Do SMEs need to review? Should we send to end users for testing? Should we send to internal folks for testing?
- User Feedback: Can you test with a few users before you launch? How will improvements be made after launch? Any steps or user expectations that you missed?
- Maintenance: Should SME’s review this annually to keep it updated? What if new features are released? What’s the review cycle?