Who Reads Documentation?

As a technical writer, I often ask myself, “Who reads what I write?.” Have you too ever had that question?

If no, then you should not be bothered; you already are confident about your abilities! If yes, the game has just begun for you.

A business-related content, technical document, or creative written material, it all goes down the drain, well… not literally, but, yes, figuratively, when or if a user does not feel the “need” to look into what you have written. The idea behind it is to design the written material in a manner, which contributes in completing the loop of operations performed on a day’s basis.

Content does not need a strategy. Of course, delivering content will need one. Content is the driving force for the likes of us, but it might not happen as ideally as we would want it to! Anyway, the point here is the written material, such as the User/Developer Guides, help documents, and descriptions should be written with the sole purpose of being read. Sometimes, we ourselves assume that nobody reads our documentation. But, the truth is, we avoid writing in the right manner. And that is what costs.

As an Indian, I know most of us do not need a User Guide to install a cell phone, to install software on our computer, to use an Induction Cooker, or to assemble our foldable furniture; all these do have a manual, which we do not read. But, as Writers, it is up to us to bring our readers to the manuals, so that we bring value (and need) to our work (and profiles!).

The way out? I don’t know. Nobody does. However, there are things that you could do to get noticed. A tooltip for software is one good example. The software that you have installed on your computer has a setup. The run-through of that setup guides you through, but it is only the software tooltips during the first-run that help you really “configure” it the way you want it. A tooltip, which backlinks to the release notes or user documentation could provide users a detail-level understanding on products.

Another good example is of that of a brochure. Recently, I purchased a magnetic recumbent bike, which I ride in the morning to workout. Each part of it was provided separately in the box when it was delivered. A small A8-size brochure, which had the same numbers listed in it (along with proper description, wherever required) as were there on the parts, was all I needed to install the bike for use. What and where lied the difference? The difference was the number-labels, which were pasted, perhaps deliberately, on the disassembled parts. Each numbered part had a specific place to be screwed into. There we go, I thought! Nice and easy.

And remember, these cases are only examples; the list is non-exhaustive. You may add an example or two, which might contribute to this post.

All said, the truth remains same. A bad document attracts only “BS”. Now, you know what that means!

The fact is, irrespective of how great a user interface is, it is the overall experience that gets low-scored if the “supporting” text isn’t supportive enough. And, to answer the question with which I began: Yes, I know people read what I write. Thanks for the appreciation.

So, make sure you write right. Right?

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