Are You Answering the Right Questions?
As a freelance technical writer, it’s vital to start a project asking the right questions. I’m entering a new environment and I’ve got to jump into a project that’s already rolling. So I’ve got to get my bearings fast, and that means asking the right questions.
When I start working with a client, I want to know exactly how to navigate the project and where my destination is. So I ask a set of questions that will help ensure smooth sailing. And I keep asking questions throughout the project to make sure I’m still on course.
Knowing the right questions to ask helps me make sure that the materials I provide are easy to use, meet the client’s expectations, and help the company reach new and existing customers.
1. Why is this content being created? What’s the goal? This lets me know not just what needs to be created, but why. Knowing why gives me a sense of the unstated needs—either because the client forgot to mention them or because they’re so ingrained in the culture the client doesn’t even see them.
2. Who is the target audience? The more I know about the user, the more I know the user guide. Different audiences have different needs. They also have different expectations, skill levels, interests and personalities, and assumptions. All of these factors should be considered as much as possible when creating a user guide.
3. What kind of a voice/tone do you want to convey? How formal or casual do you want the documentation to sound? Everything a company produces is marketing material. Even technical documents. So I need to know how the client wants to present itself to current and potential customers.
4. What kind of experience does the typical user have? What’s their background knowledge? Pretty simple. I don’t want to write above or below the user’s skillset.
5. What will the user’s biggest needs and questions be? What will the user want to get out of the documentation? It’s easy to create a user guide that answers my own questions or the questions engineers want to answer. But the user has a whole different set of questions and expectations. Simply asking this can reveal our blinders and see the product from the user’s perspective. It’s even better when I can pose this question to the user him/herself!Bill Kerschbaum is the owner of Intext Writing. He can help you create sinless materials that impress your customers and strengthen your reputation. Email him for details.
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