Technical Writing Today and Consumer Electronics Part 2

Continued from Technical Writing Today and Consumer Electronics Part 1

Many technical communicators would argue that minimalism is key and that you should provide only the information that users need. However, again, who decides what today's users actually do with the electronic products that they purchased? It is very easy to write documentation with the misconception that the writer himself represents a typical user.


However, just because the writer isn't familiar with Android's bootloader, that doesn't necessarily mean a great deal of users aren't aware of it. It's also easy to underestimate just how many tinkerers and even casual users are capable of customizing and improving consumer electronics while demanding specific information from the official User guide or Integration manual.

Concepts, Tasks and Reference topics

One of the responsibilities of the technical communicator is to review the DITA or concept maps of consumer documentation. This review should now take into consideration the rapidly changing technical aptitude of consumer electronics users.  Here are just a few questions to think about when writing and designing task outlines, concepts, maps tasks and reference topics:

Task topics:

1. Would the manufacturer recommend this particular activity or task for this product?
2. Will this task topic benefit a wide range of users or only a small subset of consumers?
3. Will adding this procedure to the documentation cause the problem of too many related topics, subtasks or child tasks? Writing a task regarding streaming media using an app or router, for example, opens up other topics such as troubleshooting hardware support, configuring media renderers and opening ports in the network.
4. Will additional limitations or requirements be needed in the Short description <shortdesc> or context <context> tags for this task topic?
5. Will this task topic need too many optional steps or decisions for the user?
6. Is the outcome of the task consistent and predictable for every user?


Concept topics:

1. What was considered jargon before but is understood by users today? In 1999, not everyone knew what a memory card was. Today, everyone knows that a tablet or smartphone benefits from an extra 32GB micro SD card for photos and apps. Managing the levels of technical jargon has always been a challenge and recent technical style guides such as the Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications acknowledges that usage and scenarios are rapidly changing.
2. How detailed should the concept topic be for prevalent technologies and applications such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, lock screens and touch screens?
3. Should definitions include related technologies, products and services as well as its benefits? Support for NFC, for example, is growing in home audio devices, but it is also linked to payment methods and even authentication.


Reference topics:

1. Is there a specific body that provides details regarding a hardware or technological standard? For example, where can the customer go to learn more about MHL or DisplayPort if they need to check if it works with a specific display or adapter?
2. What other products, accessories or even software will work with this product? Is it important enough to be mentioned in the User manual or Integration guide?  Do it yourself (DIY) hardware such as barebones small form-factor PCs, convertible laptops and 2-in-1 tablets are just some examples of products that may benefit from such a reference.

The success of technical documentation depends on whether or not the reader, user or consumer finds what he or she is looking for when he opens the PDF manual or accesses the Online Help page. It is the responsibility of the technical communicator to make sure that users gets the information they need, whether they write it themselves or refer the user elsewhere.

Continued in Technical Writing Today and Consumer Electronics Part 3


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