Should Technical Writers and Instructional Designers Change their Ways?
Written by Gershon Joseph on 20 Feb 2019
There's a saying that goes: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" This is often true in Engineering and Software Development, but is this true for Product Information developers? When it comes to Product Information development skills, I think it's a highway to obsolescence.

The legacy way of developing content separates each discipline into silos. Product managers who write the feature descriptions don't talk to the technical writers who describe the features and how to use them. The instructional designers don't talk to either of them when creating their training content. Each discipline uses their own set of tools and there is seldom any integration between them. This often results in inconsistencies between marketing collateral, user guides, and training content that annoy or amuse customers. It's also wasteful, because each discipline spent time writing what is essentially the same thing.

The tools used to develop, manage and deliver the content are often out-dated, causing the Product Information developer to spend a huge part of their time tweaking the look and feel of the output. Do we expect software developers to spend half their time tweaking their compilers and source code management systems? Of course not! But many companies are not even aware that this is what their Product Information development professionals do every day on the job. Think about this for a second... It's nuts, isn't it?

Consider this scenario: The product manager is responsible for high-quality feature descriptions. Each feature description is reused as-is in marketing collateral, product documentation and training content. Just this one reuse scenario would save a remarkable amount of time, while ensuring 100% consistent feature descriptions across all collateral. When done properly, any update to the feature description is propagated to all collateral that uses that feature description. Say goodbye to updating multiple copies of something because something changed. Say goodbye to looking for needles in haystacks while you try to remember where that text was used, and instead rest assured that all instances are updated automatically.

This is just one scenario where reuse offers huge resource and time savings, while simultaneously guaranteeing 100% consistency across all collateral. There are many others just waiting to be uncovered.

As a Product Information developer, you owe it to yourself and your employers or clients to learn the new paradigms and embrace them. If you don't, you risk becoming obsolete when your employers or clients wake up and move to a modern content development paradigm.

So if you're a Product Information practitioner, I encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and start learning about single-sourcing best practices, DITA XML, and content sharing techniques.

Gershon Joseph

Gershon Joseph helps Technical Writers and Instructional Designers up-skill themselves into single-sourcing ninjas, by coaching them on single-sourcing paradigms, methodologies, best practices and core technologies. He is an expert at helping Product Information teams and professionals massively up their productivity to deliver more, higher quality content in less time by optimising their organisations and adopting modern single-sourcing methodologies, technologies and best practices.
If you're interested in solving your Product Information challenges, reach out and request a free strategy session today.
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