Advice and best practices for writing SOPs, training for product launch, outsourcing technical documentation, and more.

Technical Documentation Shortcuts That Will Cost You

No one likes to admit they cut corners with technical documentation. But let’s face it, fast-paced environments, pressure, and approaching deadlines can provoke shortcuts to the defined process to ensure deadlines and goals are met.

iStock_000021480483SmallTake medical records for example. With the advent of electronic medical records, doctors can now quickly use templates, use standard phrases and paragraphs, and copy and paste text, rather than deliberately hand-writing notes. These timesavers, which are valuable in hurried offices full of patients and pressure from new value-based reimbursements, lead to many errors. Inaccurate statements result in serious medical errors or allegations of fraud.

When it comes to your company’s technical documentation, consider your users like patients. The quality of their experience relies on the integrity of your content. Here are 3 shortcuts you should never take when it comes to writing technical documentation for your users:

3 Technical Documentation Shortcuts You Should NEVER Take

  1. Skipping an Audience Analysis

Content is the key component in a user’s experience with technical documentation, so it’s critical to understand what information the audience already knows, doesn’t know, and how they will use it. Without an audience analysis, content is written in a vacuum and risks being too elementary or incomprehensible to your audience. In both cases, users perceive the documentation as useless because it doesn’t speak to them and ignore it. In an instant, all the time and money you’ve invested into the documentation is wasted, never to see a return.

The same is true if the content is not delivered in a user-friendly format. If the technical writer doesn’t understand how the audience will be accessing the content and selects a method that is inconvenient for users, the documentation might as well not exist.

The cost of shortcutting an audience analysis includes:

  • $5,000 - $30,000 of documentation effort with 0% ROI
  • Resources and time for sales representative or technical support to coach users through errors related to incorrect operation
  • Time and travel for service engineer deployments to correct misuse errors
  • Lawsuits due to improper use
  1. Not Validating Procedures

Validation is critical for finding the hidden errors, miscommunications, and misunderstanding that may occur between the content input stage and actual audience use. By neglecting validation of procedures, a company cannot be confident that the choice of words, sentence structure, and format are comprehensible, logical, and usable for the intended audience. This can lead to erroneous content, product risk, and harm to the end user.

The cost of shortcutting validation includes:

  • Additional investment to rewrite documentation
  • Delayed schedule
  • Damage to product that results in costly repairs
  • Harm to end user and resulting financial and possible legal repercussions
  1. Eliminating Editorial Review

Although technical writers have a strong command of the English language, giving a document a fresh look by an editor outweighs the cost of editorial mistakes. Without a second look, many documents inadvertently include grammatical mistakes that can result in misuse, safety hazards, and ultimately company liability.

This is especially critical for documentation this is translated. It is crucial that the foreign language matches the meaning of the English version. Novatek’s technical writers have caught many instances of procedures or disclaimers with missing words or words that have a different meaning than intended, that result in a meaningless sentence and open the company to liability risk.

The cost of shortcutting an editorial review includes:

  • Lawsuits due to misuse and safety hazards
  • Additional investment to rewrite documentation
  • Additional investment to update translation
  • Reputational damage - grammar, spelling, and language errors show customers you don’t care about quality
  • Lost customers due to poor documentation support

For more tips on managing the cost and quality of your technical manuals read, Technical Documentation Planning: 3 Tips to Improve Cost & Quality.

For more tips on avoiding risk in technical documentation, read How to Avoid Risking Your Reputation with Bad Product Manuals.

For one shortcut that WILL save you time in the long-run…

Download our free guide:

Developing a Controlled Vocabulary


Topics: technical writing