Pain-free technical manuals
Last year, engadget.com published an article with a headline that included “promises ‘service manuals that don’t suck’.”
It surprised me that this would be newsworthy–the “promise” from the manufacturer included features we’ve been implementing at Precision Wordage for well over a decade–then I thought about some of the resistance I run into with clients when I’m trying to get them to step away from failed methodologies in their technical manuals.
A recent example was a client who brought us in because, in his own words, he wanted the company’s tech pubs “to move into the 21st Century.”
The first thing we did was to revamp the document appearance, adding white space to the pages, cleaning up the headers and footers and “branding” them in keeping with the company’s marketing standards. Next, we adjusted the language to accommodate the target audience. We cleaned up the graphics so they were actually useful, replacing poor-quality photos with crisp line drawings. And finally, we reorganized the sequence of the contents so the user didn’t have to wade through 50 pages of background before getting to actual procedures.
From day one, we were fighting with the one in-house tech writer who’d developed all of the old, unmanageable standards. His boss backed us up, so we continued to improve on the documents. Then there was a personnel shift, and the new power over tech pubs did not share the previous vision. The docs were moved back into the old template, the in-house writer returned to his complicated language constructions, and our contract was not renewed.
It’s not the loss of the client that bugged me–that happens. It’s the loss of every bit of innovation we brought in because of the client’s failure to follow the vision of his predecessor.
But there’s another side to this coin.
I got an email recently from a client who actually demanded that we push the envelope on friendly and usable technical documents. He said, “The facts are that the tested time to install for the [new product] was approximately one half of the time for installing the preceding [old product], call volume decreased by almost one third and product registrations increased in the low double digits. I also tracked various press coverage and noted a positive effect on product reviews. More importantly, customer satisfaction scores started climbing which was important for customer loyalty and brand reasons.”
Now that was a fun project.
At Precision Wordage, we are passionate about the work we do, and our sole objective is to make our work as useful, informative and as pain-free as possible. We throw combined decades of experience at accomplishing this, and take pride when our work wins awards.
If you share our desire to continually improve your users’ experience with your documents, contact us and let’s see if there’s a way we can work together to bring your vision to fruition.