Don’t misjudge the importance of quality technical writing

Stop treating technical writing as a commodity, because it’s an important part of your product experience that customers will judge as harshly as the product itself, and it just might turn them into advocates.
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There is a trend to dismiss the importance of quality technical writing when working on products. Companies treat it like a commodity, hiring the technical-writing outfit that submits the lowest bid. That’s a horrible way to treat one of the most vital parts of your product.

Influence on purchasing decisions

Let’s start at the beginning, when a potential customer is evaluating products. I can promise that some of them will be looking at your documentation before they make a decision. Shoot—we always look at a product’s documentation just to see whether we’re going to like it or not.

Our thought process when we do that is, “Does the vendor care enough about their products and customers to offer the best documentation possible?” If we can’t see that reflected in their documentation, we move on to the next product. Many IT pros do exactly the same thing.

Aside from that, the documentation usually tells us more about using a product than the demos, presentations, and videos combined. IT pros want to look at the screenshots, steps, and other details to make sure it’s a good fit before they purchase. If the information isn’t there, what are they left to do but to move on to the next product?

Your documentation tells a story. Why not make it happy story, where an IT pro falls in love with your product because they had a great experience with your documentation? So, never underestimate the importance of quality technical writing in purchasing decisions.

Customers' perception of quality

Unless you have a mind-numbingly simple product, customers judge the quality of your documentation as harshly as they judge your product. For that matter, don’t forget that your documentation really is part of your product. It’s not a sideline or hobby.

Which of the following posts would you rather see on social media?

The product looks great, but I can’t figure out how to use it because the documentation sucks.

The product is awesome, and the documentation provided is top notch.

We’ve seen product reviews that simply boggle our minds because our initial impression was that the products were fantastic. Then, we looked their documentation. Never take the importance of quality technical writing for granted. The publishers simply did not care enough about their customers’ success to give them the proper tools. Many of those negative reviews would have never been written if they had.

Great docs overcome many issues

Not only can great documentation help you win sales, but it can also help you overcome product challenges. Customers will forgive a lot of bugs, as long as you provide the documentation on how to overcome them.

Witness Microsoft. Microsoft has a fabulous knowledge base (KB) that documents workarounds for known issues. Can you imagine a world without the Microsoft KB? I don’t want to. Microsoft is a company that has never dismissed the importance of quality technical writing.

We’ve also seen publishers include workarounds right there in their product documentation. At that point, it’s almost not even a workaround anymore. It’s just the documented way you do it. Our own IT pros’ experiences with this is that a workaround in the documentation barely gets a shoulder shrug. We’re just that much more appreciative of the effort to make us successful.

Successful customers become advocates

Besides closing the sale and maintaining your reputation for quality, terrific documentation has an even more powerful impact. It transforms customers in to successful customers. Then, it transforms successful customers in to advocates. Every dollar you spend on producing the best documentation possible is going to come back to you many times over.

Use engineers for technical writing projects

Vanilla technical writers are the ones with no engineering skills. They’re very good at writing generic content. However, don’t waste your time trying to tell them about your product’s value propositions. It doesn’t translate because they don’t speak your language. They aren’t going to get it, and your documentation will reflect that.

Developing solid product documentation requires the author to first understand the technology and then know how to articulate that information in the simplest way possible. Of course, they likely have great editors polishing their language and grammar, but the important point is that they don’t miss the message because they understand it.

The importance of quality technical writing

So let’s summarize:

  • Your product documentation influences purchasing decisions.
  • Customers include your documentation when judging your product’s quality.
  • Great documentation can overcome many problems in your product.
  • Successful customers become advocates with the help of fantastic documentation.

It’s not a secret here that we’re recommending you make a significant investment in your documentation. Companies like Honeycutt Inc. produce simple, clean, well-written, and problem-solving documentation that achieves all of these goals. If you want to talk about documentation, feel free to give us a shout.

About the author

Jerry Honeycutt

Jerry Honeycutt

Jerry Honeycutt is a geek with creative perspective. He founded Honeycutt Inc. in 2009 to help innovative IT companies land their value propositions with the hardworking professionals who can achieve them.