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The art of technical writing

Many of us have ripped open the packaging, pulled out the shiny new mobile phone or laptop, and started using it right away. It’s only when we hit a metaphorical brick wall that we turn to the user manual – or try to find instructions online.

That’s just one of the challenges of technical writing, according to experienced technical author, George Lewis, the founder of doc-department. Few of us will ever read a manual end to end. Writers have to put themselves in the user’s position, and anticipate where they might need help.

“Customers just want to find the right information quickly so they can get on with the task in hand,” he said. “It’s an important part of customer service and the overall experience of using the product. When a customer has a problem, you want to be there to provide support. But having good, up-to-date documentation can prevent that situation in the first place.

“Good writers understand how people want to interact with technology. They can provide a fresh look at it and anticipate where users may encounter issues.”

When it comes to format, there are lots of options, including print, web and video. The traditional user manual is no longer the best option. Now, users expect to find assistance on the internet with a combination of getting started instructions, video tutorials as well as more detailed information for advanced users.

An issue often overlooked in technical writing is maintaining the content. Getting the user documentation out the door is just the first step. You need to ensure the content is always up-to-date and accurate. Nothing annoys users more that inaccurate content that doesn’t reflect the product they are having difficulties with.

Many software designers use an “agile development process”, adding new features and collaborating on products. This can be great for users, who get to experience the benefits of new developments straight away. But it’s tricky for those who have to update the documentation.

“It’s an ongoing process,” George said. “We work with software development companies as they introduce new features and products. We gather customers’ feedback, and use it to improve the content based on what they say.

“Companies invest a lot of resources in product development, but they overlook the user documentation as a part of the product experience, so don’t necessarily invest in documentation,” he added. “Outsourcing the writing process means you can take advantage the latest technologies and free your engineers and developers to concentrate on what they do best.”

Our professional translators can work with experienced technical authors to produce documentation in multiple languages.

Christof Schneider, Workflow Consultant, Lingo24

Christof Schneider joined Lingo24 in 2004 to support clients and the team with his workflow and technical expertise. He has a degree in Philosophy and Translation, and has worked as a translator and consultant, as well as teaching Technology and Localisation skills at Auckland University. He has been deeply involved in the integration of technology into Lingo24’s workflows and helped with the development of Coach, the translation technology platform.

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