Do you know who your readers really are? If you do, do you write for these readers? Novice technical communicators often forget their target audience in the tangled flood of “required information” or “legally important data”. In the mad rush to get everything documented, we sometimes forget to think about how our readers work with our documents.
Leave the songs to the pop stars!
When we succumb to the urge to put everything we know down on paper, we are documenting like songwriters. We’re creating documents containing what we think is important. Users can and will tune out this kind of content; like when you change channels when that song you hate comes on the radio. The best documents consider the target audience, what they want to do, and how they work.
Songwriting is not the same as technical writing!
One size fits all doesn’t work in technical documentation. Sure, a document detailing an internal combustion engine is useful to some people, but a quick guide that explains the driving-related features of a specific car is more useful to the average motorist. To help your users, find out how they work, and create content with this in mind.
Of course, the “shotgun approach” to documentation has certain pros. You can always say that you provided all the required documentation and can be fairly certain that the legally-required content is all there.
But writing in this way means that your readers will either have to wade through pages of irrelevant content or will (more likely) just give up and create a support ticket.
So, what’s the solution?
Use your generic guide as a draft and validate it against the needs of the customer! Then identify the target user of each specific portion of information you are delivering. If your writing infrastructure allows, then focus on creating different guides tailored specifically for your user audience.
Still not clear? Here’s an example.
Imagine we are documenting software for a medical information system. The system has two parts: one for the doctor and one for the patient.
In our draft guide, we wrote about the system and how to use the various functions. The result was that the information for the doctor and for the patient was in the same place and readers interested only in one role had to work through content made for the other too.
But, by considering the user role, we can create a user guide that clearly identifies the processes relevant for each target role.
We also made the target audience clear by stating it at the beginning of each topic.
So, you can see by considering our target audience and slicing up the data, we can produce personalized content, that is impactful for our customers. Don’t make your readers “channel surf” to find the information they need; instead offer a tailored experience that leaves you with a happy and informed audience.