The unseen cost of software businesses (Why technical writing skills matter)

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Having good technical writing skills, as a developer or technical writer, can benefit software businesses since it can costs that usually are unseen.

I found this question in Stack Overflow's 2020 survey of developers.

Nearly half of respondents selected 'Hello, old friend,' which suggests that it can be common for specific tasks.

But is it really true, or is it just people that want to center a <div>?

Referencing resources represent one of the most underrated costs of building a software business. So, why do technical writing and technical documentation are not given more consideration, given that most people probably spend hours researching good information about the technologies they use?

Even if you admit it or not, technical documentation is present in the workplace. The difference is in the culture of how you document the knowledge. This is where technical writing skills are helpful.

Most of the time, the tech writings sit in private Slack channels, lost emails, and docs spread around various tools or bookmarks.

Committing time to product documentation and business processes widely available is essential for software companies because poor documentation can cost the company money...

...or, for some unfortunate souls, it can cost them two years of their life:

A company's expenses vary according to its product, marketing, and operations, but there are some examples of hidden costs that can be addressed by having better technical writing skills:

  • Employee high churn. For developers, unrealistic expectations, a lack of documentation, and unspecific requirements rank highest in the category of Challenges at Work, according to the same survey from 2016.
  • Dissatisfied customers or sales that are lost. Unhappy customers or potential customers are choosing a competitor with better documentation.
  • A waste of employee time. The time employees spend attempting to find information is time they could be spending on more profitable tasks. An inefficient search can be made more difficult by poorly written or organized documentation.
  • A high cost of customer service. It may be cheaper to provide a docs site than to have people answer similar questions in chats or tickets.

Why technical writers are important

Depending on the product and the audience, technical writers have various writing styles. In a product-based company, technical writers handle most aspects of the docs website.

Just remember that tech writers are not the only ones producing technical documents, even though they are at the forefront.

Technical documents are a part of almost everyone's professional life. But don’t assume that anyone can write. Often, writing and editing are left to a tech person without any formal writing training or even basic skills. 

Any software company that wants to become good at technical writing should have a technical writer on staff devoted 100% to documentation.

By doing this, the developers can work on cool features while the tech writer takes care of documentation.

It doesn't mean that developers don't have to produce documentation. It is clear that developers have the most in-depth knowledge of the process specifics and are best suited to write a specific integration guide.

Rather than producing internal documentation, the technical writer should focus on creating user-oriented documentation. The goal of technical writers should be to simplify technical content without sacrificing technical accuracy.

That’s why tech writers do more than just write docs. Converting information that hardcore techies regularly use to information that people with zero technical knowledge can understand involves communicating with key stakeholders, managing expectations, and sometimes working with information that doesn't exist, or running from a meeting to another to keep things aligned.

Sure, not every business is going to work with a technical writer. And that's fine, not every company needs one, but for sure, everybody needs to get better at communicating.

You can always get better at communicating.

Getting better at communicating is a matter of practice. The first time you need to write a piece of content might be challenging, but there is no way around it.

There are technical writing courses from Google and this shows why technical writers are essential and how knowledge churn can cost software businesses more than developers' salaries.

We are documenting everything because it's required.

Now, don't document everything just because you read online that technical writers and documentation are essential to a software business.

Do your due diligence. Analyze if this is something that is costing you money or if it can improve your organization's efficiency and productivity.

It's important not to get into a situation where tech writers, developers or marketers write about the same things, especially when launching a new feature or product.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the significance of technical writing in a software business?
Expand FAQ
Technical writing is a crucial aspect of a software business because it is essential for documenting product and business processes. Poor documentation can cost a company financially. It can lead to high employee turnover, dissatisfied customers, a waste of employee time, and a high cost of customer service.
What is the role of technical writers in a product-based company?
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In a product-based company, technical writers handle most aspects of the docs website. They are responsible for simplifying technical content without sacrificing technical accuracy and aim to create user-oriented documentation. They also communicate with key stakeholders to keep things aligned.
Why should software companies invest in a technical writer dedicated to documentation?
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Any software company that wants to be good at technical writing should have a technical writer on staff dedicated entirely to documentation. This allows developers to focus on working on features while the technical writer handles documentation. It also ensures that the documentation is written by someone with appropriate skills and training.
How can software businesses improve their communication?
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Improving communication is a matter of practice and involves more than just writing. It may require courses, such as technical writing courses from Google, to understand the essential role of technical writers and how knowledge churn can cost businesses more than developers' salaries.
What should be considered before documenting everything in a software business?
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Before documenting everything, it's important to analyze if it is something that is costing money or if it can improve efficiency and productivity. It's also essential to avoid scenarios where technical writers, developers, or marketers write about the same things, to avoid redundancy.

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