Documenting for a lack of patience

I’m writing this in a theater that’s filling up with people. I’m here for my youngest daughter’s dance recital. She’s dancing in two groups, both at the very end of the first act. I’ve got a long time to wait.

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What users are looking for (hint: FAQs)

I spent last week researching support and learning management systems, working on a documentation delivery schedule for the rest of the year, and responding to a few complex support cases.

Those support cases, along with some comments from other users, have made me rethink my opinion of FAQs. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that this feedback is pushing me in a direction that I’ve been trying to avoid, while I knew that I was fighting the inevitable.

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Question your assumptions

I’m the documentation and support team for my company (startup!), which means that I get an interesting, and often valuable, view into the problems our customers are having. Most of them are technical (port numbers), some turn into feature requests, and some are questions about using the product. Those are often tricky, or subtle, and they’re particularly useful to me because they show me where the documentation could use some improvement.

And sometimes the user is having a problem because I screwed up. Let me tell you a story about one of those.

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Tech writers: The bard class of the corporate world

In D&D and related role-playing games (Dungeons and Dragons, and yes, I’m going full geek), the Bard character class gains a ton of skills: They’re a bit fighter, a bit thief (or rogue, if you prefer), and also have a bit of magical ability.

The point is: They’re flexible. They’ll never hit as hard as a fighter, aren’t as sneaky as a thief, and won’t cast as many spells as a wizard. But because they don’t specialize, they’re useful in many situations, and they’re often an asset to adventuring parties.

Lots of skills, very versatile, an asset to their team…just like technical writers!

Ok, I sense your doubt. Let me explain.

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Why isn’t the documentation team part of customer support?

I’ve been a tech writer for 18 years, and I’ve worked for half a dozen companies as a full-time writer or doc manager (which has meant “full-time writer who also helps other writers clear roadblocks”). In all that time, I’ve never been a member of the Support team.

From my experience, and from talking to other tech writers, we’re almost never part of Support. But that’s exactly where we should be!

Possibly. At least I think so.

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