Changing times in technical communication 2 – Workflow

Science Museum/Science & Society Picture LibraryWe’ve been on the road in recent days and weeks, visiting different documentation teams, and we’ve found there are distinct signs of change. In this post, I’ll look at how we’re starting to see the workflow for creating User Assistance beginning to change.

We found many documentation teams overstretched and starting to be asked how they could create content for new products that were coming along. Some organisations have decided they can only deal with this extra workload if they rethink the workflow for how content is created.

Catch, Cook, Plate

The traditional approach has been for the Technical Authors to gather the knowledge that Subject Matter Experts have and turn this into information. They then organise this information into a structure and publish it as content. One client called this process “Catch, Cook, Plate”.

Instead of this approach, some documentation teams told us they were looking at getting the Subject Matter Experts to do some of the “catching” – create more of the initial seed content that the professional Technical Authors could “cook” into something usable. This approach was happening with both API and user documentation.

This was prompting them to look at the tools they use to create content. Subject Matters Experts want an easy-to-use tool for creating content, and the Technical Publications team doesn’t want to be wasting time tidying up and importing Word documents. Some were looking for advice from us on which tools to pick.

Taking this approach, in many ways, turns Technical Authors into Content Strategists. It requires governance, editing, standards and other rules. It often requires a terminology management, metadata standards and taxonomies. It also means the different departments involved in the project, such as development, design, marketing and support, need to work more closely together.

What do you think?

Have you seen a similar trend? Is it a good idea? Please share your thoughts below.

See also


Verner Andersen

With agile development I see a trend where less is documented. Although we have user stories and requirements I don’t see detailed functional specifications.

This means that technical writers have to do the catching from daily standup meetings, and by working with prototypes.

At the same time I see requirements for standardized/simplified English and content reuse. This involves content strategy, information modeling, terminology management and metatagging.

Sven Ring

It is very much they way we are going and what Verner Andersen is describing is also what we experience.
It does present us with problems as the easy-to-use tools are not part of our toolbox and to develop them is out of our reach.

Craig Wright

The real problem with this ‘change’ is that it is dependent on the SMEs understanding what information needs to be presented in the first place. I’ve seen them produce vast amounts of technical information that is completely irrelevant to the operator-level end user. Yes, it is nice to have something to work with, but sometimes it would be less time-consuming for everyone involved if they just let the TA ask the SME for just the info that is needed. It is a judgement call that SMEs may not be able to make.

Jennifer O Neill

I work for a multinational manufacturing company and report to Product Management. Many of our products are outsourced to OEMs (original equipment manufaturers) and EDMs (original design manufacturers) with short life cycles (no Web-based products). We release dozens of products a year and I’m the only writer. We collaborate closely on the manuals with the content moving backwards and forwards between us all. All happens in Word. At one stage I used Frame but it seriously impeded the collaboration between the different groups. This sharing of content developement involves planning for consistent product design and content reuse, terminology management, standards on graphics, and editing. And all of us knowing who’s best at what.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.