How to add value to mobile applications

If you have a smartphone, you've probably noticed how little help content is available for mobile applications. Most technical writers are used to large applications that require extensive user assistance. However, the lightweight, intuitive GUIs present in most mobile apps don't require such extensive instructional content.

So how can technical writers add value in a mobile world?

First, take a positive view of the situation. Less content means that you can spend more time focusing on writing something really helpful.

Concision is vital when you are working with limited screen space. This works to your advantage. As a technical writer, you've been eliminating jargon and writing concisely for your entire career. Now you can use those skills to create minimalist documentation that addresses the exact needs of your readers. It's like switching from prose to verse; you will use fewer words, but those words must be carefully chosen. In fact, you may find that writing such documentation requires more work and attention than a non-mobile application.

Second, get involved in the design stage. Leverage your usability skills to help developers craft an intuitive interface. Technical writers can add a lot of value by helping choose button names, assisting with usability testing, and more. Also, your writing and project management skills can be incredibly valuable for tracking key development decisions, getting consensus across teams, and more. Remember, your skills can be just as valuable for internal technical communications as they are for writing end-user documentation.

Third, involve yourself in user communities and start answering questions. Many users learn how to use their mobile apps by asking questions in Internet-based communities. Some of these discussions will happen in user communities provided by your company, and others will happen in social media applications such as facebook or on third-party blogs. Work with your company to determine what your policies are for getting involved in these groups, and then dive in and provide authoritative answers whenever possible. Be sure to disclose to the group that you are an employee of the company; this will work to your advantage because the community will recognize you as an expert who can provide solid answers to their questions.

Don't worry. Mobile apps may be lightweight, but they still need the skills of experienced technical writers.