Title: Benefits Of Creating User Documents In-House Word Count: 897 Summary: OVERVIEW For small companies, creating their product's User Documentation in-ho use, provides benefits to the compa ny, to (idle) staff, and to the pro duct. This article describes the be nefits and some downsides of produc ing User Documents in-house. THREE OPTIONS If you have no in-house writing sta 1. No have three options: ff you User Document for the product . This is NOT a valid option. Every product needs User Documentation. It completes your product package, an... Keywords: user document, writing, user manual , new writers, technical writing Article Body: OVERVIEW For small companies, creating their product's User Documentation in-ho use, provides benefits to the compa ny, to (idle) staff, and to the pro duct. This article describes the be nefits and some downsides of produc ing User Documents in-house. THREE OPTIONS If you have no in-house writing sta ff you have three options: 1. No User Document for the product . This is NOT a valid option. Every product needs User Documentation. It completes your product package, and enhances the User's experience with your product. Here are two exa mples of non-existent User Document ation: * Tomatoes. Most people don't know that before use, tomatoes should no t be refrigerated. Refrigerating to matoes before use will reduce their flavor and nutrition value. * A Manual Can Opener. This can ope ner clamps on the can, thus the use r does not have to squeeze the hand les while operating the can opener. It came with no User Documentation , as "everyone could probably figur e out how to use it." This is wrong . After a few uses, the blades beco me slightly dulled, and the handles are very difficult to clamp and lock. The simple tip of turning the knob while squeezing the handles makes t he can opener easy to use. That tip could form the basis of a User Man ual for the product. The manual sho uld include instructions for care o f the can opener. The absurd situat ion is that this clamp feature was the unique aspect of the product; b ut the feature becomes unusable bec ause of no User Document. How have you felt about products th at came without User Documentation? Were you confused about the produc t and getting the most from it? Use r Documentation adds to the value o f the product. Let's look at how we can get it created. 2. Use an outside writing service o r consultant. Technical writers may be an excellent choice to create y our User Documentation. However, th ere may be downsides to using them. * When documentation changes have t o be made, the company has to re-hi re the writer. If the writer were u navailable, then you have to wait o r search for a new writer. When the new writer gets hired, a new orien tation to the company and the proje ct would have to start. Delays, de lays, delays. * An even more horrible thought is that the outside writer used some f ancy piece of software to create th e User Document, and you do not own that software. Thus you could not make any changes until you bought a nd learned that software, or hired an outside writer who uses the same software. (Most technical writers are enamored with a particular piec e of esoteric writing software.) Using the outside writer will force you to batch your documentation ch anges, making the literature out of date. (How many times have you see n product documentation that does n ot match the product? This happens because the company was waiting for the next major upgrade to update t he User Documentation.) 3. Using idle employees in your com pany to create the User Documentati on. The remainder of this article w ill focus on this option. STAFFING BENEFITS In most organizations, there is som e staff down-time. By assigning the se staff to create User Documents y ou benefit from effective use of th is down-time, and the employees ben efit from experience in a new field. These staffing benefits include: * Use staff who may be idle between projects * Your staff know the company's cul ture and their fellow staff * Your staff use existing company-w ide writing tools (your word proces sor) * No time needed to get oriented wi th the physical aspects of the job * You have created a new resource wi thin company BENEFITS TO YOUR USER DOCUMENTS If you have in-house writers (even if they are not formally trained as "technical writers") you can just say "Sue, could you or Tom update t he document where the sign-in windo w is presented." Much faster and mo re flexible then having to go to an outside source. Sue and Tom have o wnership of the document, and would work to improve it. They would use software resources available in yo ur organization. The benefits of in-house writers to your User Documents include: * You can make corrections as you fi nd the errors. * You are able to update your User Document when you update your produ ct. * Better control of timing and resou rces * No fear in dealing with the User Document in electronic form. From y our word processor or add-ins, you can publish your User Document as a portable data format (.pdf) file, or as HTML for display on the Inter net. DOWNSIDES OF IN-HOUSE WRITING The primary downsides of in-house U ser Document creation are the attit ude and emotions of your newly-appo inted writer. These include: * Fear ("I don't know how to write") * Anger ("Why me? This is unfair") * Uncertainty ("I don't know what to write") * Isolation ("I've been cast into t his writing thing") You can reduce these negative emoti ons if you encourage and support yo ur New Writer. SUPPORT YOUR NEW WRITERS It is unfair to assign a non-writer to create a User Document without supporting him/her. You have to sup port your writer with: * Training; * Access to the development and mar keting teams for product informatio n; * Use of the development team to ev aluate their writing (small chunks) ; * Access to the product, industry l iterature, and marketing materials; * Style manual; * Editor -- your writing expert; * Time to do a good job. Other articles in this series (see the links in the "Resources" or "Ab out the Author" section of this art icle) present more information abou t supporting your New Writer.