Great Technical Writing Make Your Product Fit


Most product documentation sounds like their product is​ the​ only thing in​ the​ User's life. Such thinking results in​ User confusion and dissatisfaction. This article presents three real-life examples of​ this attitude,​ and what should be done to​ remedy these unfortunate situations. the​ article concludes with some techniques for the​ writer.


There are two important facts that User Documentation ignores:

1. Your product is​ a​ only minor item in​ your User's life

2. Your User Documentation must help fit your product into the​ User's life

User Documentation that is​ written with awareness of​ these facts results in​ a​ better user experience. Here are three examples of​ where the​ writers (always incorrectly) thought that their product was the​ only thing in​ the​ User's life.

EXAMPLE 1: Shoe Cleaner/Protector

Most people know about polishing and perhaps cleaning their leather shoes. This cleaner/protector product is​ meant to​ clean,​ protect and shine shoes. the​ instructions simply tell the​ User how to​ apply the​ product.

What the​ User is​ Used to: I polish my shoes with regular wax (or liquid) shoe polish.

The Problem: if​ a​ User wants to​ polish his/her shoes as​ well as​ use your cleaner/protector,​ then what order should the​ polish and the​ cleaner/protector be used? the​ instructions merely tell the​ User how to​ apply the​ cleaner/protector. It's like the​ cleaner/protector is​ the​ only shoe product in​ existence.

Possible Solutions: the​ the cleaner/protector instructions could say (as appropriate):

* Use the​ cleaner/protector instead of​ your normal shoe polish.

* Use the​ cleaner/protector after you polish the​ shoes with your regular shoe polish.

* For a​ deluxe shoe treatment,​ use the​ cleaner/protector first on​ the​ shoes. Wait a​ few minutes,​ then wipe off any excess with a​ clean cloth. Then polish the​ shoes using your regular shoe polish,​ in​ the​ usual way. Finally,​ use the​ cleaner/protector again,​ but do not wipe it​ off.

These would make for much more effective instructions,​ and they could easily fit on​ the​ package.

EXAMPLE 2: DVD Player didn't realize that I had a​ VCR

People buying a​ DVD player a​ few years ago were in​ the​ following situation. They had a​ VCR connected to​ the​ single video input of​ their TV. DVD players' instructions described how to​ connect the​ player to​ a​ TV using a​ video input. the​ instructions ignored the​ situation of​ how to​ connect the​ player if​ there already was a​ VCR connected to​ the​ TV 's only video input.

What the​ User is​ Used to: the​ VCR is​ connected to​ the​ only video input of​ my old television.

The Problem: My new DVD player needs to​ be connected to​ the​ TV's only video input. Do I have to​ buy a​ switch or​ manually switch the​ DVD player and VCR?

Solution: the​ writer should provide some tips or​ instructions how to​ set up the​ DVD player in​ the​ customer's real-life situation. These instructions may include how to​ connect the​ DVD video through the​ VCR. or​ connecting the​ DVD to​ the​ TV's video input,​ and connecting the​ antenna of​ the​ VCR to​ the​ antenna input of​ the​ TV. Both devices can be connected with no need to​ buy additional parts. the​ instructions should mention how. it​ would improve the​ User's experience in​ setting up the​ new device. (The instructions should also mention that these methods of​ connecting the​ devices would yield a​ less than optimal picture.)

EXAMPLE 3: a​ 2 in​ 1 Shampoo and Conditioner Product

A User normally shampoos his/her hair and then may use a​ separate conditioner product. He/she just purchased your product,​ a​ 2 in​ 1 shampoo and conditioner. it​ has no instructions.

What the​ User is​ Used to: a​ shampoo is​ used on​ the​ hair and immediately rinsed. a​ conditioner gets left in​ the​ hair for a​ few minutes,​ then rinsed.

The Problem: Does this 2 in​ 1 product get left in​ the​ hair,​ or​ does it​ get rinsed out immediately?

The Solution: Provide correct instructions on​ the​ package. Or,​ if​ it​ does not matter how long the​ 2 in​ 1 product gets left in​ the​ hair,​ then say so. Don't leave the​ User guessing. if​ the​ User wanted to​ guess about something,​ then they would be reading a​ novel,​ not your User Documentation.

BOTTOM LINE: What to​ Do for Your Documentation

Examine your product in​ the​ light of​ how it​ will change the​ way that the​ User currently does things. How will it​ fit into the​ User's life? How does the​ product fit with other products your User employs?

Make sure that your User Documentation helps the​ User to​ effectively fit the​ product into his/her life. By ignoring the​ reality of​ your User's situation,​ you are forcing him/her to​ solve problems that you could easily solve. if​ you provide the​ solutions,​ then you will create a​ better product experience for your User.

Fitting the​ product into the​ User's life presents the​ writer with a​ duty and an​ opportunity:

* the​ duty to​ ease the​ User from what he/she previously did to​ the​ new product's situation

* the​ opportunity to​ explain your product by using the​ User's experience as​ a​ background.

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