The need for empathy in technical communication

One of the subjects Doug Kim covered in his TCUK14 presentation, on the changes to Microsoft’s user documentation, was how Microsoft now normally begins its Help topics with an empathetic statement. The writers seek to understand the user at the moment they’re reading the content.

For example, if someone is reading the topic on auto save, it’s likely they’ve just experienced a crash and have lost some data. So they express empathy by saying, crashes happen:

Microsoft Help screen

By doing this, Microsoft is moving away from the norm – the generally accepted way to structure task topics in DITA and other standards is to dive straight into the task without any introduction.

We think Microsoft has go this right – there is often a need for empathy in technical documentation. Of course, this is difficult if your content could be reused anywhere – you lose the understanding of the user’s point of view. However, being empathetic, from the research Microsoft carried out, is what users, today, prefer.

See also: Trends in Technical Communication Course – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques

Microsoft’s “No more robot speak” in action

 

Our post about how Microsoft is changing its writing style (Microsoft moves away from “robot speak” in its user documentation) generated a lot of interest, so I thought it might be useful to post some examples of it that we’ve spotted.

These examples are from Office 365 Premium Edition.

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Reframing technical communication as marketing

We’ve noticed a few slidedecks and blogs recently that have been looking at the value of technical communication in marketing a product successfully. With the trend towards earning revenues over a lifetime (rather than in a single upfront payment), the marketing strategies employed by organisations is changing.

Scott Abel has posted a slidedeck called “The Future of Technical Communication is Marketing”, which you can see below:

Acrolinx has also been posting blog posts on a similar theme, such as How Technical Communicators Help Build Customer Relationships and Building Customer Relationships: Why Content’s in the Driver’s Seat.

Marketing is becoming, particularly on the Web, about designing User Interfaces for prospects and for customers.

Technical Authors will need to understand how marketing is changing in order to understand and explain how they can add value to that activity.

“Bad information is Marketing’s fault problem. Good information is Tech Comms’ specialty. Let’s do the maths.”

inbound marketing and technical communicationsThe quotation in the title is from Roger Hart’s presentation at last week’s TCUK14 conference. Roger is a product marketing manager who spent a few years as a Technical Author. In his presentation, Collateral damage: do marketing and tech comms have to fight when users get informed?, he explained some of the most powerful marketing content today is high quality user information – especially the content that Technical Authors produce.

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Microsoft moves away from “robot speak” in its user documentation

DSC00498One of the highlights from the Technical Communications UK 2014 conference was the keynote presentation from Microsoft’s Doug Kim. Doug is Senior Managing Editor for Office.com, and leads guidelines and best practices for Voice in Office. By Voice, he means the tone of voice and style of English used in the User Interface and user documentation.

Doug Kim at TCUK14

The change in voice is something we explore on our advanced technical writing techniques course, so I was interested to see how Microsoft was addressing this topic. The good news for us is that Microsoft’s approach is consistent with what we advocate on the course (however, we will need to update the course before the next one in December to include some of the topics Doug discussed).

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The lost Steve Jobs interview – on successful products

Last night, we watched Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview on Netflix. It’s a lengthly (70 minute) interview from 1995, in which Steve Jobs discussed his recipe for a successful business. The interview was made 19 years ago when Steve Jobs was still running NeXT Computers, and just six months before he rejoined Apple.

Here are some highlights.
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The big questions in technical communication

David Farbey wrote a semi-existentialist post on the challenges for technical communicators yesterday. I’d like to look at the issue in a different way, by looking at the big questions in technical communication today. The answers to these questions (which may be decided by people outside of the profession) are likely to affect the future direction for technical communicators.

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Issues for developers moving from on-premises software to Software as a Service.

On Monday, I spoke at the Visma Developer Days conference in Riga, Latvia, about some issues software companies have to address when migrating from developing on-premises software to Software as a Service.

One of the of the biggest changes is that the revenues are spread over the lifetime of customer – they pay on a monthly basis rather than an initial up-front payment. It becomes vital customers don’t give up on using the software after only a short while, because you won’t have earnt much income from that customer. If the software is difficult to use, and if users cannot find the answers to questions when they need them, there’s a good chance they will stop using the software, and stop paying their subscription fees.

We’re seeing a number of software companies changing their approach to providing user assistance (user documentation). More companies are thinking about it at the start of the project, so they can do a better job of delivering user documentation than they’ve done for on-premises software. They’re seeing documentation as part of the customer journey, and part of the design process.

This is welcome news, although it requires development teams to combine product design with information design. I wonder if there’ll be similar trends emerging at the next conference I’ll be attending – MadWorld 2014.