When is a Technical Writer’s Job Done?
Once a technical writer has turned in their work, they’ve checked off all of their tasks, they should be done with the project, right?
Not quite. In the process of writing for a company, the next step after finishing up a handbook, manual or online help is to test out the steps that have been documented. If the writing isn’t correct, then the writing isn’t going to be effective.
In many cases, validation of documentation is done by a QA department, in other cases it’s not, or at least the review process involves others in the organization.
Check with a Subject Matter Expert (SME)
Having one or more subject matter experts review the documentation is always a good idea. This allows the company to be certain that the documentation is not only accurate, but also up to quality standards. The subject matter may be someone in the company itself, or someone who is outside of the company that might have worked on the project as a consultant who is familiar with what’s being documented. They will review the text, offer any notes or advice, and then the documentation can be corrected before it is used in the company or shipped to customers.
Peer Review with Workers
Workers in the company who have already been performing the tasks being documented by a technical writer should be able to review the text as well. This may include other technical writers within the company, managers and long-time QA personnel. Professional Services staff can also be helpful in the case of software documentation since they end up having to install and configure the product at the customer’s location.
Having other writers review the work can serve to pick up issues directly with the writing, such as grammar, compliance with adopted style guides and more.
Having new users attempt to validate the documentation can also be a good idea, as it addresses usability issues and difficulty in understanding the material.
The Importance of Quality Control
Quality is the most important concern in technical writing. The writing needs to be sharp, clear, and accurate. When the writing is untested and un-reviewed, it will most certainly lead to problems down the road. Even if these issues are not life threatening, the writing will lead to confusion and possibly a reduction in workplace efficiency when it comes to internal documentation and an increase in technical support calls and product dissatisfaction with regard to external documentation. At worst, one crucial misstep in the documentation can lead to worker safety issues, injuries and potential liability exposure.
Checking up on the accuracy of technical writing is the final step of any writing process. No matter the skill level of the writer, a fresh pair of eyes to look at the writing helps to ensure maximum effectiveness of the documentation. Pairs of eyes with different perspectives and experience levels bring even more to the table.