Would you use Microsoft Word to build your organization’s website?
If you don’t use Microsoft Word to build your website then why do you use it to build content for your online product documentation? According to our survey , 56% of Technical Communicators use Word. Why? Because it’s easy to use. But it’s not an effective tool for product documentation.
Sure it can produce flat, messy html, but then what? According to survey respondents, ‘then what’ means some of you are posting the content to a static, html documentation website. Frankly, what’s the point?
These are not tools designed to maximize the effectiveness of your product/service documentation. These tools are general tools that cover thousands of use cases.
So they weren’t designed with you in mind. And that’s a problem.
If the current documentation 1.0 lifecycle looks like this:
- Defining requirements
- Identify the resources
- Develop the documents
- Review developed documents for quality
- Publish documents
- Maintain the documents
Then I propose an upgraded version of the documentation lifecycle. One that make you more strategic and more valuable to the organization.
I have identified six primary product/service documentation areas that Technical Communicators should be focusing on. Only items 1 and 2 have coverage currently but are still well under utilized.
- Content Authoring – According to our research, 56% use Word, followed by an in-house custom solution (26%), 17.6% use RoboHelp, and then Compiled HTML Help (CHM) 14.5%
- Product Documentation Website – Our research shows that most companies use a static, custom website for their documentation. Some of the savvier organizations use MediaWiki, Confluence or MindTouch 2009. Yet none of these solutions have the product documentation use case in mind.
- Content Discovery - Your customers can’t find the answers to their issues. How do we know? Our research revealed 67% of your customers’ top complaints are about the inability to find the answer to their problem in your documentation. They give up and call customer service.
- Content Curation – I can’t think of a single tool that’s helping Technical Communicators curate the best information on the web about their products, or on their own documentation websites.
- Lead/Revenue Generation – This is not on the radar of most Technical Communicators, but it is front and center for most Marketing and Sales departments. Recognizing your content can be leveraged strategically to become your number one lead generation source is an important aspect of the next generation Social Documentation solution providers.
- Strategic Documentation Maintenance – What are you doing about your documentation/content of old products or services? Can they be reused, maintained or updated easily? Most likely not. You don’t have the right tools.
The point here is that if you’re not using the new social documentation tools available to you, you’re undervaluing yourself. I mean that. You’re using documentation tools that were never meant for documentation. Yes, there are Framemaker, MadCap Flare, and RoboHelp but these tools are stuck in Item one above. You’re in an Enterprise 2.0 world now and need to be using the latest tools that cover one – six above.
I hear more and more stories of Technical Communicators not being valued or are only valued during the documentation creation phase. They are then let go, or reassigned to do less meaningful work. It’s happening because the perception of your value is low. It doesn’t have to be. In fact, if you follow our advice, you’ll be as or more strategic than anyone else in the company.
(Cross-posted @ MindTouch )