Benefits Of Creating User Documents In House


for​ small companies, creating their product's User Documentation​ in-house, provides benefits to​ the company, to​ (idle) staff, and​ to​ the product. this​ article describes the benefits and​ some downsides of​ producing User Documents in-house.


if​ you​ have no in-house writing staff you​ have three options:

1. No User Document for​ the product. this​ is​ NOT a​ valid option. Every product needs User Documentation. it​ completes your​ product package, and​ enhances the User's experience with your​ product. Here are two examples of​ non-existent User Documentation:

* Tomatoes. Most people don't know that before use, tomatoes should not be refrigerated. Refrigerating tomatoes before use will reduce their flavor and​ nutrition​ value.

* a​ Manual Can Opener. this​ can opener clamps on​ the can, thus the user does not have to​ squeeze the handles while operating the can opener. it​ came with no User Documentation, as​ "everyone could probably figure out how to​ use it." this​ is​ wrong. After a​ few uses, the blades become slightly dulled, and​ the handles are very difficult to​ clamp and​ lock.

The simple tip of​ turning the knob while squeezing the handles makes the can opener easy to​ use. That tip could form the basis of​ a​ User Manual for​ the product. The manual should include instructions for​ care of​ the can opener. The absurd situation​ is​ that this​ clamp feature was the unique aspect of​ the product; but the feature becomes unusable because of​ no User Document.

How have you​ felt about products that came without User Documentation? Were you​ confused about the product and​ getting the most from it? User Documentation​ adds to​ the value of​ the product. Let's look at​ how we can get it​ created.

2. Use an​ outside writing service or​ consultant. Technical writers may be an​ excellent choice to​ create your​ User Documentation. However, there may be downsides to​ using them.

* When documentation​ changes have to​ be made, the company has to​ re-hire the writer. if​ the writer were unavailable, then you​ have to​ wait or​ search for​ a​ new writer. When the new writer gets hired, a​ new orientation​ to​ the company and​ the project would have to​ start. Delays, delays, delays.

* an​ even more horrible thought is​ that the outside writer used some fancy piece of​ software to​ create the User Document, and​ you​ do not own that software. Thus you​ could not make any changes until you​ bought and​ learned that software, or​ hired an​ outside writer who uses the same software. (Most technical writers are enamored with a​ particular piece of​ esoteric writing software.)

Using the outside writer will force you​ to​ batch your​ documentation​ changes, making the literature out of​ date. (How many times have you​ seen product documentation​ that does not match the product? this​ happens because the company was waiting for​ the next major upgrade to​ update the User Documentation.)

3. Using idle employees in​ your​ company to​ create the User Documentation. The remainder of​ this​ article will focus on​ this​ option.


in​ most organizations, there is​ some staff down-time. By assigning these staff to​ create User Documents you​ benefit from effective use of​ this​ down-time, and​ the employees benefit from experience in​ a​ new field.

These staffing benefits include:

* Use staff who may be idle between projects
* your​ staff know the company's culture and​ their fellow staff
* your​ staff use existing company-wide writing tools (your​ word processor)
* No time needed to​ get oriented with the physical aspects of​ the job
* you​ have created a​ new resource within​ company


if​ you​ have in-house writers (even if​ they are not formally trained as​ "technical writers") you​ can just say "Sue, could you​ or​ Tom update the document where the sign-in​ window is​ presented." Much faster and​ more flexible then having to​ go to​ an​ outside source. Sue and​ Tom have ownership of​ the document, and​ would work to​ improve it. They would use software resources available in​ your​ organization.

The benefits of​ in-house writers to​ your​ User Documents include:

* you​ can make corrections as​ you​ find the errors.
* you​ are able to​ update your​ User Document when you​ update your​ product.
* Better control of​ timing and​ resources
* No fear in​ dealing with the User Document in​ electronic form. From your​ word processor or​ add-ins, you​ can publish your​ User Document as​ a​ portable data format (.pdf) file, or​ as​ HTML for​ display on​ the Internet.


The primary downsides of​ in-house User Document creation​ are the attitude and​ emotions of​ your​ newly-appointed writer. These include:

* Fear ("I don't know how to​ write")
* Anger ("Why me? this​ is​ unfair")
* Uncertainty ("I don't know what to​ write")
* Isolation​ ("I've been cast into this​ writing thing")

you​ can reduce these negative emotions if​ you​ encourage and​ support your​ New Writer.


It is​ unfair to​ assign a​ non-writer to​ create a​ User Document without supporting him/her. you​ have to​ support your​ writer with:

* Training;
* Access to​ the development and​ marketing teams for​ product information;
* Use of​ the development team to​ evaluate their writing (small chunks);
* Access to​ the product, industry literature, and​ marketing materials;
* Style manual;
* Editor -- your​ writing expert;
* Time to​ do a​ good job.

Other articles in​ this​ series (see the links in​ the "Resources" or​ "About the Author" section​ of​ this​ article) present more information​ about supporting your​ New Writer.

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