What questions do you ask to SMEs to begin with technical documentation?

During a recent online conversation, someone requested for a list of questions I would typically ask to a subject matter expert (SME) to prepare technical documentation for a topic. Of course, the parameters may vary, but there is still a list of questions that apply across all sizes or complexities of projects. In this post, I share with you the list of questions that I shared with them…

TechComm and Content Disruption

Vinish Garg recently posted on the content’s role in Disruption. In his post, he shared what the experts had to say on the role that content has to play/currently plays. Here’s my opinion:

What is Disruption?

Let me first take you back in time. This started when the marketing and branding industry opened the corporate gates to the world of consumers. And, by opening the gates, I mean it transformed its value proposition from “this is what I have” to “this is what I can do”.

This is when the small brands started becoming revolutionarily big by using the power of content to reach people. Gradually, the brand communication transformed from advertisements to jingles, to sports, to brand personification, and to emails. But, this inherent idea of associating brands with emotions continued to lose its value as the size of content continued to become unmanageably big.

Today, we have a lot more touch points to reach to our consumers, yet we are far less effective in reaching the right audiences. Reason? The consumers are lost in the enormity of content. In the race of creating more content, we have forgotten to make it effectively personal. Today, the consumers have a lot of options, and each of those options is trying to be different. But, when everyone tries to be different, no one is different.

It is important to disrupt this clichéd template of communication to help consumers make informed decisions. It is important to keep consumers at the focus to design communication strategies that transform the value proposition from “this is what I can do” to “this is what I can do for you”.

This disruption is to bring back the consumers from the point of “I am being pushed” (with the product/service) to “I am being heard”. And, only such a disruption can help us engage better, listen better, and do better.

And, how can technical communication/technical communicators play a role in Disruption?

I think it is about the consumers, and not about the product. We exist because the consumers (and their needs) exist. We help build this communication ecosystem. We communicate products in an undistorted, unappealing form. But, we do connect the features and benefits. We can help our consumers answer the “what’s in it for me” question. Of course, we may not sell. But we can at least help them buy.

I look at it this way: If organizations were chemical equations, technical communicators would be the catalyst. We communicate. And, we help communicate. The information passes through us. So, it is up to us to transform that information into its utterly simple, memorable, and usable form. In fact, we can equate customers’ requirements with the developers’ intentions.

We can align tools, methodologies, and the technology while we bring clarity, insights, oneness, and simplicity (not in that order though). But of course, that all sums up as the easy-sounding commonsensical task. And, making common sense truly common is perhaps the disruption.

How do I make information-communication effective?

Information communication is a cyclical process, much like the usual purchase decisions that you take. So, if we can wear the shoes of our users and understand their requirements, we can write better documents or even project the information-communication more effectively. In this blog post, I try to find those effective checkpoints using the purchase-decision analogy. We will take daily-life examples, such as using mobile applications to searching for “mobile phones” versus searching purposefully for “new Android phones under 10,000.” The analogy lends us some interesting insights that can help us communication information effectively. Let’s explore.

Three Tips for Effective Localization

In this post, I take a closer look at the localization project in which my team and I assisted. I take cues from this project, and the similar ones that I have done previously, to discuss the top-three points for localization. This post is special to me, because it has helped me unfold those chapters of my life, which I had come to forget. If you are new to localization, this post will help you scratch its surface. If you already are into this field, I hope that the post will help add some new points to your localization plans. Click here to read the full post.

The Ps that remained

The fact that I am a marketing graduate has had a considerable impact on the way I handle product documentation. I largely take things from the user’s perspective: Unlike the way a technical grad would handle documentation, I mostly like seeing it from the eyes of a marketer. While I was recently busy answering the “what’s-in-it-for-me” question (during the product documentation for an upcoming release), I stumbled upon this strange similarity between my education and my profession. Click here for the full post.

Technical Communicator: The New Branding Person

Last month, I got a chance to read from some of my old books. I am a marketing graduate. So, while I read some random pages from the marketing domain, I could see that the learning matched to technical communication as well. But, how could the lessons on branding teach anything about technical communication? In this post, I try to explore this question to help improve my understanding.

Reduce: To Improve

This post is about progressive reduction, which is what I’ve recently read about. From what I have gleaned, progressive reduction is about those gradual changes (mostly reduction) in the UI elements that relate to your time-lapsed incremental cognition of a product. In other words, progressive reduction is in continuously adapting the UI elements of your product based on the gradual improvement in its usability. Read the full post.

The Key Elements in Technical Communication

The bent towards information design is on account of its applicability – A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words. The use of graphics minimizes the use of content. Rather, it squeezes the underlying message of the content into a graphics. Despite the usually observed bent of mind, I believe that the key elements of Information Design and Technical Communication are the same. Here’s how…

The All-Important: Redundancy

Redundancy is inseparable. But, it is still important to make mutual sense. Your reader wants to search for content that resolves the purpose of the search. But, that sadly isn’t always on our list of goals. This article tries to see the possible definition and cause of redundancy, and suggest the probable solutions to resolve or avoid it. Click here to read the full article.

Note: The stub contains the link for the article, which is placed under a separate tab. Access the article either directly from the related tab or through the link in the stub. The stub is for only referential and record-keeping purposes.

Tech Comm and the Glossary of Biz Economics

Premise

In the regular classes on Business Economics, during my graduation, I learned about certain concepts that still apply. Two of such concepts, Buyers and Users, are applicable in technical communication to a great extent.

Can those concepts lend any insights to us? Do we prepare our documentation considering the buyers or users? Or, do we concentrate on merely describing the features? The discussion follows in this post.

Observation

The easiest way to begin the conversation is to see what demarcate buyers and users.

It is strategic to choose which side you represent as a technical communicator. At large, all of us fall on the same side of the table – the sellers. We obviously don’t “sell” our content, but we do contribute (both actively and passively) to the sales cycle. Deep down, however, we aim to write from the point of view of the buyers and users. Note that I am using an “AND” between buyers and users.

I prepare and release technical documentation, just as any of you do. And, like you do, I too focus on what my company’s products deliver. But, the basic concepts of Business Economics help me demarcate the buyers and the users.

Definitions

The same demarcation that applies to Customers and Consumers, applies to buyers and users as well. Consider the following introductions to customers and consumers, based on what I have gleaned from the subject:

Customers. They may or may not use the product (and hence may not always qualify as end users), but they are the ones who buy. They implement a purchase decision. They influence the purchaser, and hence the purchase decision. They do not consume the products but can use the services and hence can impact your communications. The brand-level changes affect their perceptions.

Consumers. They use the product but are not necessarily the ones who buy. They either feel or create a need to purchase. Therefore, they are the ones who create and govern the purchase decisions, but under the influence of the buyers. They consume products and avail services. The feature-level changes affect them. They mostly know what they need.

Analysis

The points mentioned above are generic, but they communicate the scenario effectively. Let us now take an example to further outline the comparison of behaviors. Pick, for example, a health drink for children; Let me define it as “NutraChamp.” As customers (or buyers, in this case), you are affected by the brand philosophy (or value proposition) of the product.

But, the fact that the product is available in the flavor of your choice, which is a feature-level change, will affect you only if you are the consumer (or the user) of the product. The choice to go for a particular flavor, or even color of the packaging will belong to the consumer, but the decision to finally purchase it will still belong to the customer. And, in all probabilities, the purchase decision will not be governed by the color of the packaging and the flavor, but the information supplied with the product. This is where documentation plays its part in the sales cycle.

The information supplied – in this case, the supplements fact sheet – plays a strategic role when purchasing a product. For technical communicators like us, it is therefore important to understand the buying behaviors to communicate only what contributes to the learning curve of our customers as well as consumers and hence affects their purchase behaviors.

Conclusion

In similar situations, I focus on providing what my customers need. Additionally, my documentation becomes more “sellable” if I also include what they want. My learning, from the Business Economics class, has paid off! Need is extremely important, and hence, in our example, if the NutraChamp health drink contains a combination of health benefits, taste, and flavor, both the buyers as well as the users will be happy and satisfied with the purchase decision.

As a marketer, I might think differently, but as a technical communicator, I will try to communicate the health benefits, by providing the supplements fact sheet, and miscellaneous documentation, if needed.

I understand that as a technical communicator, I do not write in the marketing terminology. So, the purpose of this post is not to tell you to package and present wants as needs to buyers and users. But, based on our interaction so far, it is not difficult to assume that our documentation should contain feature-centric, benefit-oriented information.

I do not intend to tell you to make documents more “sellable”, but when the documents should address the needs as well as wants, the points mentioned above can come in handy.