Here are Some Things That May Bother Any Writer About Creating User Documents
Project Management & Surprises at the End of the Project
Old-fashioned document production follows the waterfall project management method. Participants completed a step (for example, a document outline), got the step approved, and went on to the next step (the writer goes away and writes). After writing the document, it gets edited, and then sent for approval. This all-or-nothing process results in surprises.
- Surprise! You got a fundamental concept wrong!
- Surprise! The editing will take longer than expected
- Surprise! You left out something that we added while the Product was in development
- Surprise! The developers do not like the way you said something (throughout the document)
- No Surprise! It's going to take a long time to approve.
We use an Iterative, Interactive Writing method, based on just-in-time Production and agile programming methods. Each portion of the User Document (we call it a "Component") gets circulated to the project team for comments. This is an iterative procedure.
After a few cycles, the Component gets a final edit, formatting, and sent for approval (sign off).
The result is that the Components are verified to be correct as you produce them. The User Document is accurate, and sign off happens as part of the writing process.
You create modular documents. Each Component is a module, dealing with one topic. This is a natural structure for using with your (existing) Content Management System.
This method results in faster learning on your part, a more accurate document, and NO surprises at the end of the writing project. All those result in less stress for you.
What Writing Style to Use
There are five writing styles that you can use for any Component of your writing. How do you decide what writing style to use, and how do you go about writing in that style?
The Course tells you when and how to use each of these writing styles:
What's Important in the User Document
How do you decide what to include in the User Document?
The Course provides you with a high-level User Document outline that covers the entire post-purchase User-Product Interaction Life Cycle. The Course presents a structure for each of the Components of the User Document.
I don't want to be bold, but the Course will show you what Content to include in your User Document. You can be assured that you will provide the all the Content that your Reader needs and wants. The Review and Revision techniques in the Course reduce the occurrences of "information blunders," where important information that the Reader needs is left out.
The Course encourages you to add knowledge about the Product to the User Document. Click to read my article about additional information in your User Document.
Easiest Way to Write
The dreaded blank page. What to write, how to write it.
The Course guides you in analyzing your Reader, and creating a Persona based on that analysis. You speak the first draft to the Persona. Later you will review and revise this draft for clarity and completeness.
You feel that you are writing in isolation and that you have to do everything on your own, including learning about the Product.
We suggest that you hire an editor early in the creating of the User Document. We tell you where to find an editor at low cost, and how to effectively use the editor during the entire writing process. (If you cannot afford an editor, we suggest some resources to help you edit the Document on your own.)
Our Iterative, Interactive Writing method engages the Product development team in the entire writing process.
More About the Course and How It Helps You
Fear of Looking Stupid
Here's a quick tip: if the development team feel that your questions are too elementary, tell them that you are asking the questions that your typical reader might ask.
We also tell you what to do before questioning any of the development team.
Fear of Errors in Your Writing
Our Iterative, Interactive Writing method catches errors in your thinking and writing early in the writing process.
You Just Want to Create Better User Documents
Existing User Documents (User Manuals, Guides, Instructions, etc.) are tolerable, but could be much better.
From the Reader's View: The documents leave out information and knowledge that the Reader needs, some of the information is much too concisely presented, and the desired information is hard to find.
Even the biggest names in industry make horrible mistakes. These degrade the Users' experience with the Product.
From the Writer's View: It's difficult and stressful to write. The "exciting" writing technologies compete for your attention (XML, Content Management Software) to the detriment of Content and access to that Content.
Content and access to it are the only things that matter to your User/Reader.
The Course Builds In Usability
I believe that Document Usability = Content + Access to that Content.
This is what's important to your Reader:
- Providing the information that the User Needs (Content)
- Making that information easy to find (Access to the Content)
The Course is designed so that you create a usable Document, possibly the most effective Document you can create in the given time.
Making the Content Accessible
Our accent is definitely not on minimalism (except that we are User-task oriented). Since we believe in making a lot of information available to the Reader, how do we prevent confusing them?
That's where the Course's guidance on Access comes in. The Course will show you effective ways to make that Content accessible to your Reader. Accessible means to be able to
- find what they need now, and
- skip what is not important now.
The Access methods in the Course work for print as well as electronic presentation.
Why You Think You Might NOT Want to Take this Course
- If You're currently working on a User Doc writing project.
This Course will guide you through an effective way to produce a great User Document.
- If you have to learn new (CMS, perhaps) technology.
I cannot argue with that, if it is your highest priority. Please remember that this Course is here if you want to work on the Content and Access of your User Documents. Content and Access are important to your Reader; your content management system only helps you and your organization.
"I know how to write"
The current state of User Documentation is that the Documents do not satisfy the Users' needs. The Course will help you improve and speed up your writing so you will have the skills and time to produce a better User Document.
The Bottom Line
Finally, you can have all three:
- Low cost
- Great User Documents
and an important fourth,
- Low stress.
More About the Course
The Course is insanely User-oriented. We are concerned with how the User wants and needs to use your Product. We stress including all the information that your User might need. Using our effective access techniques, we make it easy for the User to find the information he/she needs, and skip what is unimportant at the time.
To Help You Make a Decision
Look over some of my articles in the Reading Room. If you think that the concepts in the articles would benefit your writing, then so would the Course. The concepts in these articles spring directly from the Course. Look over the structure of the Course. These are the topics you will be guided through (working on your own writing project) as you take the Course.