Why Developers Shouldn’t Write User Documentation

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pen [640x480]Product developers serve a very important purpose in today’s world. Through trial and error, developers use a range of skills to create a valuable product for consumers. In an effort to make the product as desirable as possible, developers maximize the product’s features—for example, by making it energy efficient, cost effective, multi-purpose, or low maintenance. In short, product developers use their specific talents to create a product the consumer wants or needs.

During product development, sometimes the product documentation gets pushed aside. Large projects may have a technical writer who is involved early on, but when a project doesn’t have a dedicated technical writer, someone is usually given this task at the last minute. During the final rush to meet the deadline for a product release, often developers are tasked with this assignment. After all, who knows the product better than the people who designed it? This is their brainchild, their creation, their heart and soul.

However, this situation is unfortunate for the consumer—the one who will actually be using the documentation. As important as developers are, they shouldn’t be the ones to write the documentation. Here are several reasons why:

Developers aren’t Writers

In most cases, developers aren’t formally trained in writing and grammar. They’re unfamiliar with the process of technical writing and how to best design and organize a document for the consumer.

Writing an accurate,  user-friendly 200-page user manual requires a very specific skill set. If the document is confusing, the consumer won’t be able to use it. As a result, you could get negative feedback regarding the product itself, which could then potentially lead to a decline in sales.

Developers aren’t Reader Advocates

Developers know the product inside and out—there’s no question about that. However, the consumer most likely holds a different knowledge level regarding the product. If the developers write the product documentation, they’re less likely to take the consumer’s knowledge level into consideration. Also, developers don’t view the product from the same perspective as the consumer. Technical writers are taught to advocate for the reader—a concept that isn’t taught in many other fields. It’s critical for the documentation to be written for the reader—otherwise, it’s of no use.

Developers are Good at Developing

Just as salespeople are most productive when they’re selling, developers are most productive when they’re developing. It’s counter productive to assign someone a task they’re unequipped to accomplish. Not only will it take a developer longer to write the documentation, the final product will be less valuable to the consumer than one handled by a professional technical writer.

So the next time you’re in the middle of a product development project, have a technical writing service on board to assist you with your documentation. The end result will benefit both you and your consumer.