Certification, career, skills, discover in this article everything about a great profession: Technical Writer.

Technical writing, also known as technical communication, is a broad field with many interesting job opportunities. Although the field is not well known, it has many paths for career entry. This article takes a look at the job of a technical writer and how to become one.

What is a Technical Writer?

Most products on the market, whether they are industrial machines, domestic appliances, software tools or board games, come with a manual or a set of operating instructions. Have you ever asked yourself who writes them? The days when just anyone in the organization wrote them are definitely over. Today, the requirements for operating instructions and manuals are just too high to let them be written by anyone but a professional. 

But technical writing isn’t limited to print – digitalization doesn’t stop when it comes to operating instructions. Therefore, creating instructional videos, interactive graphics and app content can also be part of the job of a technical writer.

What Skills Does a Technical Writer Need?

Solid spelling and grammar skills and a feel for linguistic expression are essential for every technical writer. You’ll also need a knack for categorizing everything you are writing, especially when working with XML and different structuring methods. Speaking of XML, a bit of computer science and media technology is also part of the job. HTML, XML, CSS and image editing are skills that a technical writer regularly puts to use.

Depending on the industry, knowledge about its norms and guidelines may be necessary. It also makes your job easier when you have a deep understanding of the technologies behind the products you are writing about.

This combination of a writing job and a technical job makes technical writing truly unique.

How Can I Start a Career as a Technical Writer?

Technical writing isn’t an apprenticed profession but there are three ways to get started in your career as a technical writer.

Lateral Entry

Due to the fact that a technical writer has points of contact with various departments in a company, people from many different backgrounds can make a lateral entry.

Translators, terminologists and engineers all bring some valuable skills  that they either learn on the job or get certified for it.

If you do a lateral entry, you might want to check out this blog post about improving your technical writing skills.

Certification

Tekom, the world’s largest association for technical communication, offers a certificate to show proof of your skills in the field. This certificate is available at two levels: the professional level for people who are just starting out and the expert level for more experienced technical writers. 

It usually takes three steps to get certified:

  1. A qualification consultation where the need for further training is determined.
  2. A training program where knowledge gaps are filled.
  3. An exam – after a successful exam, you become a certified technical communicator.

Various organisations and universities offer preparatory courses for this exam, especially in Germany, where tekom is based. For those outside of Germany who want to get their skills certified, online courses and exams are offered by TCTrainNet.

Undergraduate and Postgraduate Studies

Many universities are offering degree programs in technical communication or similar fields of study. These programs usually cover:

  • linguistic competence and the professional use of language
  • illustration and visualization techniques
  • language standardization
  • communication and comprehensibility 
  • media production 
  • organization, planning and project management
  • basic technical knowledge
  • IT skills

Depending on the program, you may have the opportunity to also specialize in certain fields, like localization or marketing. Usually these programs are full-time but some universities offer part-time and/or online programs for those who want to study while continuing employment or other commitments.

TCLoc, for example, is a distance-learning part-time program from the Faculty of Languages at the University of Strasbourg. It combines postgraduate studies with the tekom certification. It focuses on technical communication, localization, project management, web technologies and visual communication.

So, if you are interested in becoming a technical writer and learning about localization as well, or, if you already know about TCloc and would like to join the program, apply now.

Due to the process of globalization, businesses have recently realized they need to translate, or to use the correct terminology, localize websites to make their products and services available all over the world for different target groups and markets. In comparison to translation, which essentially means transforming text from a source language into a target language, website localization requires an additional set of skills to tailor content to appeal to specific markets.

There are 5 levels of website localization that companies can adopt (Singh & Pereira: 2005). Let’s have a look at each of them and what their advantages and disadvantages are.

1-Standardized websites

When a company uses a single website for all countries, this is known as a standardized website. The same content is provided to domestic and international website visitors. They also do not have the option to switch between languages. Tyco’s website is one of the many examples of standardized websites that we can find online.

Advantages: The business can focus on one target locale only and thus develop products and services tailored to these customers. This requires a smaller staff and budget than for global product launches or campaigns.

Disadvantages: Your capacity for reaching different audiences and markets is minimal, if not zero. A business with a standardized website will only reach local customers and maybe a few customers from other countries that already know about their business and are fluent in the website’s language.

2-Semi-localized websites

As the name implies, a semi-localized website only provides a few translated sections, for instance just the contact page. This kind of semi-localization is often used for online shopping since it is not always necessary to translate the whole website, as we can see in Gap’s website for example.

Advantages: The main advantage of only having a few sections translated is that you can still reach a broader range of target markets (e.g. thanks to localized product tiles, a localized contact page, etc.) as the most relevant sections of the site are localized. This makes sense for businesses who offer online shopping and whose customers already know their product lines.  Customers only have to navigate through the menu, the product tiles and possibly the purchase process.

Disadvantages: As for standardized websites, target market impact is limited. Additionally it might also give visitors the impression that the site is not finished or not professional because only certain sections are translated. 

3-Localized websites

This is the most common level of localization. There is a whole translated site for each country and most content and pages are localized. Specific regional adaptation is often not carried out, however.. Dell’s website is a good example of what a localized website looks like.

Advantages: The size of the target audience is widely expanded in comparison to the semi-localized website. Customers can easily navigate through the website, understand every product display and explanation and walk through the payment process.

Disadvantages: These websites are solidly adapted to their target markets. Their only disadvantage is that their layout, products and services might not be as well tailored to the target audience as in the next two levels of localization we will see. 

4-Highly localized websites

In addition to localizing content, there are culture-specific adaptations that companies should consider. This global localization includes translated content and site structure so that they are fully adapted to the target locale. Even country-specific URLs are provided. 

Advantages: The big advantage of this type of localization is that an originally foreign business can achieve the look and feel of a local company. This is because its website is fully adapted to suit the target language(s) and culture.

Disadvantages: There is hardly any disadvantage to this type of localization. Every product and service page is entirely localized to the target market and provides a fully user-friendly experience.

A very good example is Amazon’s website. Just switch between different markets and see what changes you can see on the website.

5-Culturally-adapted websites

A culturally-adapted website is basically a new site completely adapted to the target culture and is thus the most advanced level of localization. It is even referred to as a total immersion in the target locale. On this type of website, perception, symbolism and behavior of users are taken into account. 

Localizing a website as a translator
Localizing a website as a translator

Advantages: The great advantage of a culturally-adapted website is that a business can manage to penetrate markets that are normally resistant to foreign companies. The website looks like a local business and even heavily cultural aspects such as colors, festivities, holidays and more are taken into account.

Disadvantages: The only downside might be on the financial side. Depending on the size of the company, it has to invest in  hiring employees who are experts in the culture of the target locale and who create individual campaigns, products and services tailored to the target audience(s). That might require hiring many more employees in order to have teams in charge of each region or country the company operates in.

A very good example is IKEA’s website. Switch through the UK, German, Arab and Japanese websites to see how not only the language changes, but also the product display and campaigns.

How to determine which level of localized website to adopt?

To decide what degree of website localization to adopt, a business first needs to determine who their target audiences are and what budget they have. The localization of a website requires more skill sets than what a translator usually has to offer. As a localization specialist, you need to be familiar with e-commerce and user experience. You must also be familiar with cultural aspects of the target culture such as national holidays, customs, seasonal trends, etc. In addition, it is always beneficial to have background knowledge about HTML and CSS to understand the basics of how a website is built.

For those on the other side who make content first hand, here are two other practical blog articles that might help you with creating localization-friendly and adaptable content for an international audience:

What are your thoughts about website localization? Don’t hesitate to comment or share this article on your social media channels!

Want to know more about technical writing? Check out our 5-step approach to technical writing in this article.

What is technical writing and what does a technical writer do? Have you ever had to write an instruction manual and struggled with how to proceed? Well, let’s begin with the assumption that any technical document —whether it is a datasheet, a technical report, or an API guide serves one purpose: informing the user. All kinds of technical documentation (e.g. operating manuals, handbooks, technical reports, etc.) are part of the product itself. Therefore they must be user-oriented as part of a whole content strategy inside the organization.

The process of writing is a complex one, but here you can find the five main steps with useful tips.

1. Collecting info — the first step in the writing process

This step consists in collecting every piece of information you can find about the product you are about to describe. This is the most important part of the process because all the subsequent steps and the whole content rely on this preliminary phase.

During this phase, you must carry out an in-depth analysis of the content and the context. For instance : scope, schedule, the legal framework of the target market, audience, and last but not least, the product and how to use it. This means: 

  • Interviewing SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) and stakeholders. Ask questions to all those who are involved in the development and design process, in order to gain knowledge about the product and the subject matter as well as any applications and features.
  • Studying contracts and specifications. Any technical document must comply with the applicable legal requirements, mainly dealing with product safety, so read them all thoroughly and carefully. 
  • Accessing the risk analysis. Use this internal document to write your technical documentation and draft correct safety warnings and instructions for use.
  • Analyzing your target group of users. This task aims to produce an understandable technical document tailored to the need of your potential readers, in terms of language, type of output media, and graphics.

2. Writing needs structure

During the structuring phase, you will create a well-defined Table of Contents. You need to dedicate time to establish a clear structure because this will be the backbone of your writing journey. However, you should be prepared to modify it along the way, as some fine-tuning may be needed.

3. Drafting —put into practice your technical writing skills

This is the step where you really get into action. As a technical writer, you must always consider the user, and adopt an action-oriented — or “task-oriented” — approach, bearing in mind that your reader is a user who is looking to accomplish a task. Also, always keep an eye on your style and use writing techniques suited to a possible subsequent translation.

Opting for Simplified Technical English as a powerful writing tool

Originally developed to make maintenance documentation for aircraft and their components easier to understand for a global audience, ASD-STE100 Simplified Technical English (STE) is a controlled language standard. It helps to improve readability and translatability of technical documentation. 

Among the syntax rules, note the use of:

  • Active voice
  • Simple verb tenses
  • Simple sentence structure
  • Term consistency

If you are curious and want to learn more, check out this article about the benefits of STE.

4. Submitting your technical documentation for review

One may be tempted to skip this step, but this is actually a crucial phase. Always submit your draft to the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). There are two reasons to do this. Firstly, as a technical writer you always need to validate the content of your writing. Secondly, you want your text to be free of errors such as typos or grammar mistakes. Another set of eyes is always great support.

5. Release

Once your content has been updated with remarks and corrections implemented, you can proceed to the DTP (Desktop Publishing) step. You should carried this out at the very end of the process, to avoid unnecessary reworking of layout and formatting.

To wrap up

Writing technical documentation may be seen as putting together building blocks to shape an effective and coherent structure.

As further reading, I suggest checking out this interesting article about small but useful tips to survive as a technical writer.

Did you like this blog post on how to write technical documentation? Share it on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

Dating from the early 1970s, outsourcing remains a powerful business trend. Whether it be onshore, nearshore, or offshore, more than 90% of companies practice it nowadays. Outsourcing offshore IT operations was the root of the incredible job market growth in countries such as India and the Philippines. However, as needs evolve, so does the career market. For instance India has experienced a significant increase in technical writing degree programs as well as job offers in the last decade. In this context, how helpful would outsourcing technical writing be?

What Is Outsourcing?

In simple terms, outsourcing is the practice of hiring services or buying goods manufactured outside a firm. Companies often outsource customer service operations (call centers). However, they also tend to outsource production tasks, human resources, and even entire divisions, such as the IT department (e.g. IBM). Undoubtedly, the main objective of outsourcing is to reduce costs without compromising quality. Nevertheless, this strategy provides other significant advantages: better focus on more important aspects of the business, more competitiveness and faster turnaround times.

To outsource, companies can either turn to big third-party providers, or hire independent contractors or freelancers. The key for a successful outsourcing experience is partner relationship management. Creating partnerships is healthier than just paying for a project.

There are three types of outsourcing: onshore, nearshore, and offshore. The difference lies in the geographical location of the third-party. While onshore outsourcing involves a provider in the same country, offshore relocates work or services overseas. As for nearshore, the third-party is located in neighboring countries.

Outsourcing Technical Writing

Technical communication is a key element of a product‘s success. Clear and comprehensible software manuals and other instructional materials improve the customer experience and reduce risks. However, creating professional content is a difficult task. Companies may lack the necessary skills or the financial resources to produce such documents by themselves.

As a result, outsourcing appears to be a fantastic option. The advantages are numerous:

  • Professional technical writers have access to the proper knowledge and resources to produce documentation. They know how to deal with any kind of content, and they can adapt documents according to the target audience. Moreover, they can provide editing and reviewing services. This ensures the quality of the text. 
  • Experienced professional technical writers can produce user-friendly documentation, thus creating a positive effect on customers. This reinforces customer loyalty.
  • Outsourced technical writing is performed by professionals that are up to date with the latest trends of the industry. They also know the right tools to increase productivity.
  • Since technical writing requires a lot of time, outsourcing allows employees to focus on the core elements of the business.
  • The cost-saving aspect cannot be overlooked. For many companies, covering the salary, insurance and training of a full-time technical writer is simply out of the question.

India is one of the countries that has seen a major growth in technical writing degree programs and technical communication companies. According to Indeed, the average salary of a technical writer in India amounts to $7,060 per year. 

What About In-house Technical Writing?

Despite the benefits of outsourcing technical communication, some companies may be inclined to hire their own staff of technical authors. Although it represents a large investment, the nature of the content may persuade a business to look for an in-house professional instead of relocating work elsewhere, especially if such content is very specific to the company’s product and internal information.

Naturally, this alternative may take some time to be implemented. Apart from the technical writer recruitment process, companies have to set up a management system and acquire the right tools. But in the long term, the effort pays off. 

A Wise Choice

There’s no right or wrong in outsourcing or hiring. The decision whether to employ a single technical writer or turn to a freelancer, that is to say a team of experts, depends on the needs of the company. Establishing the desired solutions for the business is key to determining whether to outsource or to hire in-house.

To conclude, outsourcing and employing in-house can complement each other. A company could call a provider as a consultant, and hire a technical author to manage the project. In that way, it will have the expertise of the provider, and a full-time worker in the office.

To read more about technical writing, click here.

Be it startups or large corporations, most software companies today have adopted an agile development cycle for their products, which means that new features, improvements and bug fixes are released at least once a month. In this context, right after the release, product teams make a list of all the changes that have been made and share those updates both internally and externally.

Now, written like this, one could easily imagine some unintelligible jargon that only developers and tech savvy customers would read. Indeed, this used to be the case, but tech companies now tend to put in more and more effort in order to produce release notes that will be understandable for end users and inform them, from their perspective, about the newest improvements in their software or app.

How To Write Release Notes?

In order to reach as many people as possible, from non-technical colleagues to average users, release notes should be written in plain language, organised by category (new features vs. bug fixes) and kept short and concise. It is recommended to address the users directly (“You can now use this function…”) and to start with a summary of the main changes, before going into detail using bullet points and linking to relevant documentation. Once the right format has been defined, it will serve as a release notes template for future updates.

Producing technical documentation requires a specific set of skills and therefore, release notes are usually written by a technical communicator, whose expertise it is to analyse a particular topic and collaborate with engineering and product teams to translate technical elements into plain language.

Even when customers don’t consult release notes themselves, the documentation will be of great help when they contact customer support. As a matter of fact, customer service teams can rely on these notes to have a better understanding of the product’s evolution and reuse pieces of information when answering a customer request.

Release Notes As A Communication Tool

If you have a look at user feedback on the App Store or Google Play, you will notice that some customers actually expect and enjoy product updates. These fans read release notes religiously and can act as influencers, spreading the good word to their friends – for free.

This is an opportunity that most companies haven’t missed, communicating about their latest updates through different channels such as:

  • blog posts
  • social media postings
  • newsletters

Fact is that release notes reflect a company’s innovation capacities (new features and products) as well as its reactivity in fixing bugs and responding to customer feedback. They are also an extension of the brand, especially when they are written in the company’s tone of voice and designed according to the corporate visual identity.

For an international company, it is also essential to localise these release notes so that they are as relevant and precise in translated versions as in the source language. Providing translators with screenshots or test environments will help them achieve this goal.

In conclusion

Writing quality release notes – and communicating about them – has become essential for tech companies in order to show their customers the hard work delivered in order to keep them happy and successful.

To do so, companies rely on technical communicators, who work closely with engineering and product teams in order to write release notes that will be accurate, informative and useful for all users.

If you are interested in a career as a technical communicator, make sure to visit the TCLoc Master’s website (University of Strasbourg). This one-year online degree is a career-oriented programme in Technical Communication and Localisation that includes training and certification by Tekom, the world’s largest professional association for technical communication.

Learn more about TCLoc Master program

Ray Gallon has been an Information 4.0 instructor since the creation of the TCLoc Master’s. With 40 years of experience as a communicator, he is now co-founder of The Transformation Society, a research and consulting firm. Discover his background, his way of teaching, his point of view on the future of communication.

Meeting Ray Gallon

D.P: Who are you and what do you do in life?

G.R: Well, I have done many things in life, I am an old guy, so, I have a lot of years behind me, but the common thread is Communication. So, I actually started working on art and culture, I have a diploma in scenography and stage design. I later became a radio producer. It was my main activity. At one point, I became a manager of the public radio station in NYC. I have a mix of nationalities, I grew up in the USA, but I am also a Canadian National. My radio work was on both Canadian and US public radio stations, and to some extend also In France, I did some work for France Culture, and several other European radios as well.

And somewhere, mid-career, I became involved also with electronic networking, in the early days on the personal computer, and that is another form of communication, communication across computer networks. And through the networking, I made contact after moving to France, with people who were involved in technical communication. It became a passion, and so, I really became involved very deeply in technical communication and related fields, and I spend most of the last thirty years doing that.

Now, what I do is I have a consulting company, called The transformation Society. What we do is consulting around all kinds of problems of transformation, so digital transformation, but also always from the human side, from the human point of view. A humanist approach to digital transformation, we determine how to build learning organisations, how to deal with different questions of learning. Think about what we do in technical communication. It’s primarily learning. So, we have to think about different learning styles, different cognitive theories, different ways of making sure that the information that we provide to our users is actually, not just usable, but is going to be helpful, is going to help them through the tasks they need to do. Quite involved and quite complicated to try and figure out. Superfine information is a complex process. It is a long answer, but it is a long career…

What is Information 4.0?

D.P: And what is this teaching, information 4.0?  What do you teach students?

G.R:   Well, I like to think, actually, that I do not teach. At least not in the traditional sense. In my sense, I am a source of information, and I try to help people. So, Information 4.0, it is about information being cut up into small pieces. Other people use the term micro content.   It means the same thing. The notion in Information 4.0 is also rather than pushing information at people, offering it to them. The idea is that we want to offer it to people in some sort of ontology. It allows people to make a selection of what they think they need to learn.

Today, when we need to know something, we go to Google, or some other search Engine, and we get an instant answer for the very specific thing we want to know.  That means that we might have some very advanced information, without having some important background information, something less advanced.

So we all, any one of us, no matter what we do, who we are, we all have what I refer to as black holes of information.  And as an information provider, I can’t know what your black hole is, or somebody else’s black hole. That is why we want to offer information. So the trick is to let them fill their own black holes. Why am I explaining this in detail? Because that is what I also try to do in my course.

So, I have taken thirteen linear video modules, and cut them into 37 or 38 micro video modules.  I have provided a taxonomy to students to help them choose what they want to look at in any given moment. And I am there to help them if they need help, if they have questions, or if they want to make comments and start a discussion about something.

A really important part of the course is also the discussions that we have, in a forum. We can start discussions on different subjects and exchange. Because Information 4.0 is not just about text. It is something brand-new. It is evolving, in the way that technology is evolving, which is very rapidly. So, there is nothing to say that students in the class can’t contribute directly to how Information 4.0 develops. Because it is all new. We are inventing it as we go.

So, I am not teaching some hard fixed body of knowledge. I am rather helping students to a quiet understanding of methodologies and ways of approaching information, with reflection about information and information development. I hope it going to be useful for them, to help in carers even if everything changes.  And I like to quote Peter Drucker, a very old man now, a management consultant, who said at one point: “the only thing we know about the future is that it will be different”.

All about communication

D.P: You said that you have more than 40 years of experience in communication. What made you decide to become a communicator? 

G.R: I didn’t become a communicator, I always was a communicator. I mean, it is just something I have to do. It is interesting because my mother was a teacher, my wife is a teacher, and there are other teachers in my family, and teaching courses is all about communicating in one way or another. I like to teach. 

D.P: What advice would you give to young people who want to communicate?

G.R: M advice is: Communicate! But – and this is very critical – communication also means listening. Communication is multi way. Communicating does not just mean to transmit, you also need to receive.  And listening, I mean this is not obvious, but listening doesn’t mean waiting for your chance to speak, it means hearing what other people are communicating to you. This is sometimes difficult even for experienced people like me. I always need to remind myself of that truth. If I have something that I really want to let you know about, I am so excited about wanting to let you know about it, that I may forget you also have things that are important to you.   And you are not going to be in a position to actually hear if I do that.

A word about TCLoc program

D.P: Do you have something to add?

G.R:  I would say one thing, that the TCLoc program is doing an online Master’s that has existed for five years. And every year we learn something in the program, it is improved year on year. And you know, we are one of the few programs that really did not have to scramble in the Covid crisis. Obviously, individual people are still affected by it, but with that program, we can help people, including our colleagues in universities, everywhere. I think that in some ways we are a model project.

I also have to say I consider it to be a privilege and an honor to be teaching in this program with so many extremely interesting and talented fellow instructors. (…) It is so interesting to be able to exchange, to listen to some of my fellow instructors, to be able to exchange about some of the challenges of teaching in the program, and what is going on in the world. For me, it is a very great experience, and I love doing it.

The diverse skills and expertise our students and our instructors is what makes the TCLoc master’s degree great. Learn more or apply for the TCLoc Master’s program !

Do you want to sell a product or service or collect more subscribers? A landing page will definitely help you to reach this goal. But how can you make users land on your landing page? It is actually pretty simple: when users click on a search engine optimized search result or on a link you provide them in an advertising e-mail or in a social media marketing campaign, they will be redirected to your landing page.

Improve your online marketing: Create a landing page

A landing page is a powerful online marketing tool. Use landing pages for announcing special offers, introducing products to your visitors (no more than one product per landing page) or advertising an event, such as a webinar. Why? Instead of making your potential customers land on any existing page of your website where they might get distracted by irrelevant items, such as a navigation menu, you will create this special page for them.

Essential landing page content

A great landing page only contains the essential. Aside from risking to slow down your page’s loading speed, too many elements distract visitors from the actual product you are advertising. Here are the 4 essential content elements of a landing page.

  1. The Header
    What do you want your visitors to know? Put your main message in a header that stands out visually and that is written in simple and unambiguous language. Including your main keywords in the header is crucial, not only for search engine optimization purposes but also because visitors will look at the header first — and at the pictures. We will get to that.
  2. The Call-To-Action
    The Call-To-Action (CTA) is the most important part of your landing page: tell your visitors what you want them to do. Keep in mind that your CTA should be short and aiming at a single goal, not more. Your CTA could be a button like “Try for free”, “Sign Up”, “Download Demo”, or “Shop Now”. You can use CTA-buttons several times throughout the page, but make sure they focus on your one objective. If you will be using any forms or fields, such as an e-mail address field for newsletter subscription, you should also keep the text as short as possible.
  3. The Pictures
    Pictures usually get most of the attention – and sometimes all the attention there is. So, you will want to emphasize your CTA by using emotional pictures that accurately represent the subject matter you want to promote: If the pictures explain your product/service, it’s perfect!
emphasize your CTA with emotional pictures
  1. The Explanation
    Provide your visitors with some more details on your product/service in an explanatory section to fully convince them: describe it, emphasizing its benefits and any special offers.
    Of all the texts on your landing page, this section will be the longest. Still, try to keep it short: you do not want to overstrain your potential customers’ attention span. Quality content is key to evoke their desire to buy your product. Make the explanation easy to read by structuring it in small sections. You are almost done! Now top it off with a picture that shows a solution to the visitor’s problem and repeat your CTA with a clickable element. That’s it!

After reading the explanation, it should be clear to anyone what you are promoting. If you did everything right, your landing page visitors have become potential customers!

Now you know everything you need to create great landing page content! But what SEO tricks can you use to make more users land on your landing page in the first place? And how can you localize your page in order to go international and attract users in other countries? The SEO and Localization courses of the University of Strasburg’s TCLoc Master’s program are a great opportunity to learn how to technically optimize and localize web pages!

Sounds interesting? Learn more or apply for the TCLoc Master’s program.

As a technical communicator, it’s your job to provide end users with all the information they need to safely, efficiently, and effectively use a product. To achieve this, your technical documentation not only needs to be correct and complete but it also needs to offer good usability. Let us see how a good usability test can help you.

What is Usability?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO 9241-11) defines usability as the “extent to which a system, product or service can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use”.

So how can you tell if your target audience will be able to confidently achieve a goal with the help of your instructions? Will they be able to easily and quickly find information without getting frustrated? Does your website offer good accessibility? And does the design of your technical documentation offer a good overall user experience (UX)?

The best way to answer these questions is to conduct usability testing.

What is Usability Testing?

According to Usability.gov, “usability testing refers to evaluating a product or service by testing it with representative users”.

Leading usability expert Carol M. Barnum defines usability testing as “…the activity that focuses on observing users working with a product, performing tasks that are real and meaningful to them”.

In short, it is important to always test your technical documentation with ‘real users’ and ‘real tasks’.

Before the Usability Test

Getting the most out of the limited time you will have with your test subjects requires good planning:

  • What are your test objectives, i.e. what do you want to learn from the usability test?
  • Select suitable test subjects based on your target audience analysis. How many users you need to recruit depends on the study, but according to UX expert Jakob Nielsen, 5 is a good number.
  • Think about the tasks you want your users to attempt. Then create realistic task-based scenarios.
  • What are your evaluation methods?
  • Do you need any test equipment? Any access to products?
  • Book a meeting room or other quiet location — you don’t need access to a high-tech usability lab.
  • Make sure you carefully prepare all documentation, including scripts and questionnaires.

Conducting the Usability Test

Once you have finalised your test plan, and you have taken care of all organisational matters, it’s time to get started:

  • Are there any step-by-step procedures or key tasks users struggled with?
  • Is there any information users could not locate? 
  • Did they get ‘lost’ in your technical documentation?
  • Did anyone have any major comprehensibility problems?

Based on your findings, you can now re-write, re-structure, and re-design your draft and eliminate any usability issues. Further usability testing can be very helpful to show how your changes have improved the overall user experience of your technical documentation.

If you enjoyed this blog and want to find out more about usability testing, here are some useful links:

Also, if you are interested in further study in the fields of technical communication and localisation, make sure you take a look at the TCLoc Master’s degree at the University of Strasbourg.

Terminology is a very important part of the job of a technical communicator – whether it involves developing new terms for a project or following a pre-established list of terms. By using the rule “1 term = 1 concept”, the consistency of the content is maintained within documents, between documents, and between writers. This leads to improved quality as well as reduced costs and time, for both content development and translation.

On the other hand, being consistent about the terms used takes extra effort. No wonder that technical communicators are often seen by their colleagues from other departments as pedantic and overly detail-oriented when it comes to their emphasis on terminology. Nonetheless, the benefits of using consistent terms go way beyond the faster and cheaper development of technical documents. The following paragraphs illustrate with concrete examples how integrating terminology to a global content strategy can improve customer satisfaction and boost corporate image.

Help your customers help themselves — terminology to improve customer satisfaction

Bill’s story

Bill has bought an electric razor from ABCtech but now needs a new AC/DC adapter. The AC/DC adapter is described in the user manual delivered with the razor. He wants to order it online, so he searches on Google for “AC/DC adapter ABCtech”. The search returns nothing relevant. Although the user manual refers consistently to “AC/DC adapter”, the website refers (just as consistently!) to “power supply”. Bill might find, with some additional effort, what he is looking for, or he might think of calling the customer support (which generates extra costs for ABCtech). Or he might go ahead and buy a whole new razor because he concludes that the AC/DC adapter is not available separately. His satisfaction with the product drops. He is much less likely to buy products again from ABCtech.

What to take away?

With about 60 billion pages indexed on Google, finding the right content is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Helping your customers have easy access to the information they need when they need it leads to happy customers, while reducing your support costs. Happy customers are more likely to be loyal customers. Regardless of the type of content, a company-wide content strategy should include terminology: “1 concept = 1 term”.

SEO meets terminology — terminology to boost corporate image

The story of Catherine, Andrew and Simon

Catherine writes an email to Andrew about the product feature “EasyID”. In his answer, Andrew spells the product name as “Easy-ID”. An email is informal communication and does not, in theory, require spell checking of product names. But this email conversation gets forwarded to Simon from marketing, who copies a paragraph directly from the email as content for the website. The English website now includes different writings of the same product name; not to mention the repercussions on the consistency of the translation.

What to take away?

These inconsistencies look very unprofessional for (potential) customers. But further than that, the website might be penalized by search engines, like Google, as the keywords are not repeated between pages. As a result, the website might be ranked #6 instead of #3 in the organic search results. Customers will have more trouble accessing those pages when searching with keywords in a search engine. Nowadays, companies spend a lot of money on online marketing and the implementation of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) keywords. Their goal is to optimize their ranking in the organic search results of certain keywords. Content strategy should always involve the implementation of consistent terminology: using the same terms throughout the content (webpage, user manual, datasheet, order form, service request, etc.) can boost visibility and greatly improve corporate image!

And now what?

Is terminology about details? Yes. Are those details worth the effort? Most definitely. And the benefits go way beyond technical documentation. A content strategy that reaches across departments, products, and publishing media, and that includes global terminology management, can boost company success. If you are a product manager, a marketing expert or an SEO specialist: go ahead and get involved in the terminology efforts of your company! Everybody will win!

Are you interested in learning more about terminology and technical communication? Check out the online Master’s Degree in Technical Communication and Localization (TCLoc) from the University of Strasbourg.

Choosing the right path in the software industry might be confusing, especially for people with a non-technical background. Yet, the software industry offers numerous non-dev roles that are worth exploring. In this post, Valentin is sharing his experience with some of them.

When I decided to make a career change back in 2016, I was looking for a position in the IT industry that would not require a technical or programming background. I had spent the last 10 years as a manager of an insurance brokerage firm and this experience looked irrelevant to a career in the IT industry. The first idea that popped up was to become an IT project manager. So, I launched a plan to attain this goal. I did some research and quickly subscribed to project management classes, paying from my own pocket. I got a CAPM, and later an ITIL certification, with the hope that these assets would somehow help me get recruited as a project manager by an IT company. I even started going to project management conferences, hoping that networking might be the key to my dream position. Well, after a couple of interviews, I realized that I might never get a chance to start directly as a project manager. The hiring managers were asking me for some real experience in the IT industry and I had none.

The discovery of the technical writer’s job

Eventually, I started a job thanks to my language skills – a media analyst with German. Within two years, I got promoted to a project coordinator of a team of media analysts and looked closer to attaining the project manager status, albeit not in a software company. At that point, I got acquainted with another non-dev role that aroused my interest – technical writer of software documentation. As before with project management, I did my homework and took a series of online courses to prepare for the role. In contrast to my previous job hunt, this time I had some experience that looked relevant to my aspirations. Moreover, I had prepared a tech writing portfolio on GitHub and had volunteered at my project coordinator job to write some procedures and to produce some instructional videos. So, after about a year of fruitless interviews, an offer finally came my way and I was hired as a technical writer by a UK-based software company. This is how I embarked on a career in technical writing that has brought me a lot of fulfilment and opportunities ever since.  As a technical writer, I get to plunge into product details and explain things to users in the best possible way, and this is something I enjoy doing.

In the meantime, I had the chance to try another non-dev position in IT that turned out to be a hidden gem. The role of the software business analyst is similar to a tech writer in that both roles are producing documentation. However, the business analyst writes the documentation at the beginning of the software development process, whereas the technical writer steps in to explain the final product to the end-users. The business analyst is bridging the gap between the product owner and the dev team, translating business requirements into technical specifications. User stories are his craft and the dev team are his end-users.  The skillset of a business analyst is very similar to a tech writer and a transition between the two roles, especially within the same company, is quite possible. An advantage of this role is that the developers will recognize your skills immediately since they are consuming your documentation, whereas the efforts of the tech writer are sometimes underestimated by the dev team.

The three non-dev positions that we discussed – project manager, technical writer, and business analyst – are all interesting and are suitable for someone who wants to thrive in the software industry but is not a programmer. I am currently working as a technical writer for a US-based product company and my preference goes clearly towards this position. A business analyst is also a great role if you are looking for more interaction with the team and the customers. At the moment, my least preference goes to the role of the project manager. However, this would be a great role for someone who already has substantial experience in the software industry or is good with the coordination and motivation of people.

Currently, the global software industry is providing some great opportunities not only for programmers but also for people with business or linguistic backgrounds. However, if you want to be successful, you need to build a strategy and have a vision of where you want to go.