Yes, technical writing can save your software project. And if the project doesn't need saving, it will save you time, money and, in the long run, lots of effort.
This is a guest post created by Jakub Wiśniewski from 3di Poland.
This may sound like a paradox because documentation is pretty often the last thing that comes to your mind when you're thinking of the development process. It's a pain in the neck that needs to be done, but nobody's exactly raising their hands to do it.
Aaah, wait, there actually are people crazy enough to nosedive into zillions of documents most of which only get read once. They're called technical writers. It's a strange bunch. They do things that hardly any outsider would consider rewarding: pack knowledge into consumable pieces to save the world from a universal catastrophe. And save your project in the process.
Save Your Developer
If you let your people walk in the dark, they're bound to walk in circles. Even the ingenious ones are not omniscient. That's why they're going to ask questions, talk to others, gather information. They need a reference. Admittedly, they can do without a single-source knowledge base that would provide them with all the necessary details. They can store such information on shared drives. Hell, they can even write it down on a blackboard and erase it every 24 hours.
Why shouldn’t they? Because it's a waste. It's a waste of time to look for the same pieces of information scattered among people, email inboxes and company drives. It's a waste of effort to spend time on deciphering poorly written and unhelpful content. It's a waste of money to make your people guess.
Now, when your project changes hands, well-done technical writing stops being merely a luxury. It's a must. What if some of the key people working on the project drop out for some time? What if a different team takes over? What if you outsource parts of the work? What if new people join the project part way through? Then the lack of decent technical documentation can result in serious delays, unnecessary work, and general turmoil.
If you take care of your docs at the very beginning, doing technical writing right really pays off. It renders things transparent. It makes your project more agile and future-proof. It also makes things faster, because everybody working on the project knows where they stand.
Save Your User
Let's say it once again: you are not the user. At least not of your product. If it's an app for the everyman, peruse this research, which basically concludes: people still don’t know how to use technology. If it’s a specialised platform for a specific group, you are not a member of that group (even if you were a member before). It’s just the way it is – you can’t be the average listener to a song you’ve written yourself. Maybe 20 years later.
That's where technical writing comes in again – because it’s not just about drafting manuals no one ever reads. It’s about making technology accessible. Technical writing around your app places the user in the forefront, just like good UX design. But it takes technical writing done right to actually help the user deal with real-life problems. If you're worried that your technical content isn’t of much use, make it better! Look at the big players out there. Consider different sorts of output. Test your docs like you test your app. Monitor the user's needs.
Technical writing not only enhances your UX design process - it's actually a part of it. You can't ignore it if you treat UX seriously.
Save Your Brand
The way you run your technical content influences the way your brand is perceived.
A long time ago, we would buy a product first, then open the box and find a manual inside it. Now, we usually have access to technical content of various sorts before we buy a product. And the product content influences our buying decisions more than vendors' social media accounts.
Technical content and marketing content are not as far from each other as it may seem. Not anymore. They may be, if you treat the former as an irritating necessity done on short notice. But why do it that way if you can harness technical content to work for your brand instead? Treat it as a marketing asset. Make it look neat. Make it sound friendly. Give it a nice feel. Keep it coherent with your overall marketing strategy. After all, every page is page one today.
Save Yourself (Some Headache)
Of course, technical writing takes some effort too, like anything else that needs to be done right. But this shouldn't discourage you from developing tech content from the beginning of any software project. What may seem like a nuisance at the start can save you a lot of headaches later on and work for you in the background.