Why Use an Author?
A Technical Author is an expert in communicating information. You may
have a large amount of information which may be highly complex, and you
may need to communicate this to a wide range of people. A good technical
author/writer will be able to work out who needs to know what
information; and devise the best method of giving them the information
they find most useful.
you have a subject matter expert (such as a skilled R&D Engineer or
a software developer), and ask them to produce the technical
documentation, there is often a risk that they will assume too much
knowledge or experience on the part of the user. Importantly too, they
can often misunderstand the extent to which a user can think logically
about the product and how it is intended to be used. They can also fall
into the trap of thinking that technically-accurate writing is good enough to
satisfy most users.
Most technical authors are very familiar with the concept of
different writing styles; and most should be able to write in the style
most suited to your particular users. For example, here at Red House, we
are perfectly happy to write highly-technical documentation for API
software developers; or to write easy-to-follow instructions for
ordinary members of the public, or anything in between. The use of the
correct writing style can have a hugely positive effect on how the
documentation will be understood and used. It can prove to be highly beneficial in terms of end users using or
recommending your products or your company.
If the person writing the documentation can not write in
anything other than their own personal writing style, you may be creating some
serious problems for the future.
An experienced author will be able to place themselves "in the mind" of a
novice end user, and write documentation which is appropriate for those users
and their needs. This is especially true for documentation used by members of
Importantly, though, technical writing is far more than simply
arranging the appropriate words on the page. As
well as the ability to write in English to a high standard, a technical
author must have the ability to assimilate new information quickly and
decide how best to communicate that information to the users of the
product. Authors also need to understand the technical and social
background of the end users and their cultural heritage, as these have a
great impact on how those users make use of the product and its
documentation. An experienced author should also be familiar with project management,
version control and quality control procedures.
In terms of developing documentation sets (such as user, installation
and service manuals for the same product), a good author will also be
ready to make a quick start on the documentation planning processes. In
our experience, this planning phase covers two simple, but vitally important
- Who am I Writing for?
- What do they want to know?
Asking these questions early on in the documentation cycle, helps the
planning process for the documentation (as it then becomes much clearer what is actually needed),
and it allows for deadlines and dependencies to be planned and met. Having advance notice of documentation requirements, helps bring
the project in "on-time" and "on-budget" especially at the
later stages of the project, when sourcing suppliers for printed materials.
Engaging an author can prove highly beneficial, both for planning and in
terms of education. As experienced authors, we are happy to prepare a
documentation plan in the early stages of the project; and then come back into
the team later on when you are moving towards the final delivery deadline. Good
planning can also help make project documentation work using "single-source"
technologies - a very good way in which the production costs of documentation
can be kept to a minimum.