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Product Knowledge for Technical Writers: Is It Important?

Posted by
Semyon in Self-Development on 12/7/20226 min read

colleagues learning a product banner 700

The role of technical writers can be compared to that of translators, as they 'translate' the technical language used in the company into users' language. Formally, it is translating from English into English, but, in fact, it is often like translating from technical jargon into an ordinary language or a language with much fewer technical terms.

Now, imagine that a tech writer does not know the text's subject matter that is to be 'translated' for a wide audience of users. This knowledge is essential for understanding the terminology and its further interpretation for the target audience.

Without product knowledge, the work of a technical writer will be like describing a beautiful view or a painting without actually seeing it. The description might impress the readers, but it will not relate to reality.

In practice, this model of ‘the blind leading the blind’ means that the users will have a wrong perception of the IT product. This will result in a surge of negative feedback, an overload of your customer support service, a loss of customers, and a drop in revenues.

This blog will explain what product knowledge is, its impact on writing documentation, and its importance for creating high-quality content.

What Is Product Knowledge?

The knowledge of the product is important for the company specialists. The content created by technical writers should provide product knowledge training for the company marketing team so that they know the strengths and weaknesses of the product and can present it the most effectively.

The demands of the potential users are essentially the same: they want to know the strong and weak points of the software to be able to compare and choose the app or service from a range of competing products on the market.

Product knowledge educates both your team and users.

It can be presented as FAQs, a description of troubleshooting issues, step-by-step instructions, etc.

The content created by tech writers highlights the most important and attractive points of the products/services for the consumers. It serves technical as well as marketing goals. It explains how to use the product and, at the same time, positions it on the market by comparing it to competing products or previous versions.

Why Is Product Knowledge Important for Technical Writing?

The product's marketability directly impacts product knowledge's importance. Knowing a product means putting it on the market, increasing sales, strengthening the loyalty of existing customers, and attracting a new audience.

Imagine that you have two articles on the product you are interested in. One article is written by someone who has the profound knowledge of a product based on their experience. The other is written by someone with superficial knowledge and can give you just an 'overview' of the product, its main features, etc. Which article will you choose?

The answer is obvious. We trust the information that is tested by personal experience. Brief overviews may be enough only when you want to know the most general information, like the name of the product and developer, its functionality, compatibility, etc. But when it comes to practical usage, we turn to people who have learned things 'the hard way' and can share real-life experiences.

That is why, when a company hires a writer, they want to know if the person is familiar with the field. Applicants who don't possess such knowledge will have problems with onboarding, and it will take them too long to incorporate technical knowledge into writing.

In general, product knowledge can give the company and the customers the following advantages:

  • Сustomer aquisition. A technical writer, who can translate product knowledge to the customer, boosts the confidence of the target customers. They feel familiar with the product and confident they can use it successfully.
  • Solution to marketing matters. In addition, product knowledge can help the sales team of the company. It will enhance the understanding of the product and how to efficiently bring it to the market. All marketing-related issues, like positioning, promotion, event management, etc., will become easier to deal with.
  • Addressing communication issues. Technical writing implies translating technical jargon into customers' language without losing essential meaning. This helps to attract new customers and increase the loyalty of the existing target audience.
  • Facilitating customer onboarding. The psychological barrier is one of the trickiest things that prevents us from making purchases. You have probably heard that inner voice telling you not to buy something new. This ‘mystery’ can be explained by the simple fact that our brain is too lazy and unwilling to absorb new information as it requires mental effort. It especially concerns technical content, which is harder to grasp. The task of the technical writer is to provide product knowledge in the easiest and shortest way possible. Information that can be consumed without effort can facilitate customer onboarding.

colleagues discussing a product

How to Learn a Product More Effectively?

Every technical writer has tips for getting product knowledge. One should keep in mind that this is a knowledge example that may require hours (days or even years) of learning. In the optimal case, learning should be combined with practical testing of the product.

However, in the harsh reality of technical writers, there is often no opportunity or time for practice. The deadlines are pending, the customers are pressing, and there is just no chance to see for yourself how it all works.

As a result, you have to rely on the following research practices:

  • Reuse the content (documentation for the previous versions) or use the content created for similar products (those of competitors);
  • Use specialized sites and forums (like Habr, Reddit, etc.) as a source of first-hand real-life experiences;
  • Consult other specialists (designers and developers) who can share the important knowledge you want to incorporate into your content.

The latter research practice is maybe the shortest way of learning, as consulting a developer will save you hours of reading. A specialist usually already has a ‘gist’ of the knowledge and skills they use in everyday work. The problem here is that sometimes specialists cannot formulate it right, and this is exactly where the skills of a technical writer are required.

Very often, you will need to get simple things explained, like abbreviations and shortenings. Dictionaries and internet surfing may be misleading in this case. For example, CSS may stand for both combat support systems and cascade style sheets.

On the other hand, things that may seem complex to you can turn out to be very simple after you get an explanation from a specialist. For example, when you come across the phrase ‘pull quote,’ it may be challenging to grasp the difference between a pull quote and just a quote. Researching on the net will take a lot of time, while a web designer can explain the difference in two words and send you a screenshot for visual clarity.

Of course, it is good when a tech writer knows web design basics. This is one of the essential skills, as web design is crucial for UX. You will hardly be able to sell a product with poor color schemes, ugly visuals, etc.

Time management is one more thing a tech writer should think of. Our working time is consumed by daily routine – meetings, calls, emails, reports, and memos. Very little time is left for writing, and it’s vital to allocate the time budget right. The best advice here is to put all important things down as a plan or a schedule. This will help to see the bigger picture and find the right solutions.

Conclusion

Product knowledge is what makes documentation really work. Without insight into the product, a technical writer won’t be able to get the message across to the target customers. Poorly written documentation can make customers turn their backs on your product or service, while helpful and user-friendly docs can attract new buyers and boost sales.

Good luck with your technical writing!
ClickHelp Team
Author, host and deliver documentation across platforms and devices

 

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