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7 challenges in technical writing and how to overcome them

7 challenges in technical writing and how to overcome them

Last updated on Nov 25, 2021

Technical writing is an exciting sphere of work where you will meet lots of new people, work on interesting projects, and learn lots of new things. It’s the type of job where constantly learning is required, and evolving to meet changing requirements with grace and fortitude. 

Technical writers are required to work on several different types of documentation, ranging from user manuals, instructional guides, standard operating procedures, employee handbooks, and more. No two days are the same and the work is usually engaging. 

Nevertheless, there are several challenges that technical writers must face in the course of their work. You’ll need every ounce of resilience and tolerance you possess to be able to overcome these challenges and get the job done. You won’t be able to complete your documentation otherwise. 

1. Last minute changes to the product

Technical writers can be caught out by last minute changes to the product. They’ve written all their documentation and then, right before publication, the dev team announces they’re shipping several new features that weren’t included in the original scope. 

You have to revise your documentation in light of the new changes. Products are always evolving and you have to keep pace with it to produce the best documentation for your users. 

Solution: Always leave extra time to incorporate the new changes in your technical writing. Remember that your documentation is never “done”, and changes will come as less of a shock. Work closely with the engineering team from the very beginning so last minute changes are less likely to come as so much of a surprise. 

2. Lack of information about product users

When writing your technical content, you need to have a clear idea of who your users are to be able to write effective content. You need to know their age, location, job status and more. Successful documentation relies on a deep knowledge of users, without which your technical writing will be worse than useless. 

You need to get to know your users as deeply as possible in order to tailor your documentation to their needs. Technical writers should be the user advocates in the organization, and provide them with a voice within the product.

Solution: Conduct user interviews to find out more about your customers. Collaborate with the marketing team to share in their user personas and use them as a baseline for your technical documentation. Work closely with customer support to get an idea of the questions that users are really asking, and tailor your documentation to reflect the most common user queries. 

3. Gathering information from Subject Matter Experts

A big part of a technical writer’s job is gathering information from Subject Matter Experts. You will be responsible for conducting interviews, reviewing content, and publishing the thoughts of these valuable coworkers. 

SMEs are busy people, and they may not have the time to get back to you when you’re asking for their input on documentation. It’s not a good idea to ask for contributions at the last minute and expect a quality contribution. 

Solution: Network with SMEs outside of when you need their help. Stop by their desk for a chat and find out what their job entails. Then, when the time comes to ask for their input, you’ll be able to put in the background work needed to successfully solicit a contribution. 

4. Outdated or unsuitable tools

As a technical writer, you may be expected to work with outdated tools which are inherently unsuitable for creating technical documentation accessible to a wide variety of users. 

You need to put together a business case for your manager in order to invest in the best Help Authoring Tools on the market. You have the best idea of what tools will really help you and enable you to produce the best quality documentation. Using the right tools for technical writing makes the life of a technical writer easy

Solution: Research the tools you think you need to do your job. Fill out a business case for investing in the Help Authoring Tools that will help you complete your work more efficiently. Show exactly how much time would be saved if you had the proper tools at your disposal. 

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5. Inconsistency in the documentation

Technical writing should come across as coherent for users and convey clarity. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen when a document has been written over a period of time, created by a variety of authors, or updated in a haphazard way without a thought to consistency and readability. 

The document might be inconsistent in terms of style, layout, tone and so on. You might address the readers as “you” in one part of the document and “they” in another part, resulting in confusion for the readers. 

Solution: If you’re making changes to an existing document, try to get a sense of the surrounding context including aspects like tone and tense. Incorporate your changes seamlessly with the existing document so they make sense for the reader. Make sure you use a style guide to ensure consistency of voice within the documentation, and to provide guidance to multiple authors who may be working together. 

6. Disorganized structure

Technical documents may be confusing to readers because they were not planned properly and are structured illogically. Information in the text is hard to find, sections don’t naturally follow on from one another, and so on. 

You need to structure your document in a logical fashion so that it makes sense to your readers. Don’t skip the step of planning out your documentation beforehand so you have a structure to follow when writing the content. 

Solution: Before beginning the writing process, take the time to be thoughtful about the overall structure of the document. A simple outline will work wonders when it comes to planning the layout of the document. Get a colleague to closely review your document to check it makes sense and come up with suggested changes. 

7. Getting people to review your work

Getting people to review your work is one of the biggest challenges, especially if you are the solo writer on your team. If you write your documentation and no one ever reviews it, flaws in your writing will go unnoticed and get passed onto the end user. This reflects badly on your writing and for the organization as a whole. 

Documentation needs to go through a review process to bring it up to a standard for publication. Build the time into your writing for a thorough review and follow up several times if you have to. 

Solution: Be as clear as possible about what you want from a review and send your writing to colleagues with enough time for them to get back to you with their comments. Don’t be afraid to follow up multiple times until you get the quality review that you want. 

Final remarks

Technical writing is both an exciting and challenging career. Don’t be surprised if you encounter these obstacles in your role as a technical writer and stay motivated to overcome them. 

Technical writing is a very social job and requires collaboration with multiple stakeholders in the course of a project. It can be difficult to work with all these different people so make sure you work on your people skills. 

It’s also important to invest in the right tools and you shouldn’t be working with outdated technology. You might want to consider product documentation software like Document360 to help you produce your documentation.

An intuitive product documentation software to easily add your content and integrate it with any application. Give Document360 a try!

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Kingson S

Author

Senior technical document writer at Document360