If you've been a writer for long, chances are you've had to convince someone of the importance of documentation. It just comes with the territory. People often don't see the value of well-documented information. They don't get that documents can be a life or death matter.
So how do you convince them?
Here are a few tips for arguing the importance of documentation.
Refer to the bottom line
Writing technical manuals saves money. It reduces Support calls, decreases accidents, and improves each user's experience with the product. Your first tactic in convincing others of the importance of documentation, especially developers and business managers, should be to show them how it makes the company profitable.
Show how documentation makes the product more usable
When arguing with developers or engineers, point out how writing technical manuals helps more users take advantage of advanced product features. Educated users will be more effective at completing tasks. They'll also have a greater appreciation for the design of the product. Appeal to the engineer's ego. They'll see the importance of documentation if you show them how it makes users have a fuller appreciation of the product's usefulness.
Carry the burden
Often a developer, engineer, or manager isn't arguing so much about the importance of documents. Instead they simply don't have time to make it a priority. They are often bound to a product release cycle that doesn't include time for writing technical manuals.
Lighten their burden and you might find them more receptive to working with you on documentation. Offer to schedule an information gathering interview so that you can pick their brains in one session, and then use that time wisely. Ask smart questions. Then get to work writing the documentation and try not to be a pest.
Gather user feedback
A lack of user feedback can often lead to doubts about the importance of documentation.
Think about it. How often does a user tell you that they've had a successful experience with the help or manual? It's usually the other way around. You hear from users when they can't find the information they are looking for.
If you want to convince someone of the need for documentation, try implementing a feedback system in your help or asking the Customer Service or Support staff if they have any positive stories from users regarding the documentation.
Write something useful
Some people do not understand the value of documentation because they've had too many negative experiences with poorly written doc. These folks are tough to win over. You just have to buckle down and keep writing useful content, and over time they will gradually catch on to the value added by a good technical manual. Give them enough good experiences to make up for the bad.
Whenever you try to argue the value of documentation, remember to point out that a successful documentation experience is one that you probably will never hear about. Happy users are quiet users.
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