Technical writer meets Gen Y SME - Part 1

Generation Y

Technical writers often talk about SMEs, but subject matter experts are actually (gasp!) developers, programmers, scientists, innovators, and product managers. Today’s SMEs are young, smart, and quick. This is not your father’s SME – this is the SME of Generation Y. The smartphone generation. The startup generation. The instant generation. These SMEs will not be impressed by your 1200 page PDF full of screen shots and explanations of self-explanatory features. These SMEs expect you to walk in the door with well-thought-out questions, an understanding of the technology, and the ability to translate their techno-speak into user-oriented documentation. Then, they will expect you to walk right out that door so that they can get back to coding and testing and developing. And Snapchatting.

Case study: An experienced technical writer with a strong tech background and excellent English skills was hired to document a mobile app. After a week, the technical writer was still playing with the system and learning the technology. The writer spent 20+ hours ramping up and was now ready to write, but the PM was in shock! He couldn’t fathom how in this day and age a person would need to spend that amount of time figuring out an app. The customer was unhappy, the writer was unhappy, and the deadline was quickly approaching.

If you are a technical writer, here are a few useful things to keep in mind in order to avoid finding yourself in a similar situation:

1. KISS documentation – Keep it simple, stupid! Smartphone apps are mostly intuitive, so the documentation does not need to include every single feature detailed to the Nth degree.

2. Skip the screens – Today’s trend is toward fewer screens and icons. Every GUI change means hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of screens will need to be updated. Especially if the product is still in still in beta, screens tend to be a waste of time and add little value to the user. Screens also are enormously problematic when it comes to the localization/translation of your documentation.

3. Manage expectations – This may seem obvious, but an agreed upon schedule of hours and deliverables goes a long way towards keeping customers and writers happy. Don’t assume you’re all on the same page, especially on a short-term project and if the customer has a tight documentation budget.

4. Know the technology – If you are an iPhone user hired to document an Android app and you don’t know the difference between Jelly Bean and Jelly Bellies, get yourself up to speed on your own time. Don’t charge the customer for you to learn basic 21st century technology.

And fortunately for you, if you are a product manager in need of a technical writer for mobile or almost any other type of documentation, you can contact Tech-Tav about your next technical writing project. Short-term or long, in-house or contract, we’ve got the right writer for your product: a writer who understands your technology; who won’t waste your valuable R&D budget; and who knows that Marshmallows are good for so much more than roasting around the campfire.