Hardware Technical Writer
Craig Wright, Technical Writer
Hardware technical writer
Craig Wright – Technical writer and copywriter
User-friendly documentation for technical products
Are you about to launch a new technology product and need an operating manual? Do you already have products and manuals, but your customers are asking for better support? Sounds like you need a hardware technical writer.
As an experienced technical writer, I know what it takes to craft an operating manual that:
- Your customers can understand
- Explains how your product works and how to set it up
- Answers your customers’ questions
- Is consistent and designed to minimise the future cost of updates and translation.
To write an operating manual, I need to understand who your customers are and what they need, and (obviously) how your product works. Usually, I get this information by talking to your experts and customer-facing staff. It helps if I can use your product too, or if you can provide a demo.
Explaining your product in terms your customers can understand
As a technical writer, I’m an expert in documentation, not an expert in any particular product. I get the information I need from the real experts – your developers and engineers – and turn that info into something your customers can understand. So I don’t need to know your industry inside-out to create great manuals. However, I understand that it is less of a leap of faith if you can see that I’ve worked on technical products before (especially if they have some similarity to yours).
Here are some projects where I have worked as a hardware technical writer:
The eController is a hardware device used in data centres and cabins. It is a control panel that receives temperture data from sensors and then performs controls based on the data. For example, it can increase or decrease fan speed or trigger an alarm system. Similar to IoT hubs in some ways.
This was an unusual job! I revamped operating manuals for a series of Kegel8 STIM devices. These send electrical impulses via electrodes, which strengthen muscles in the pelvic area. They are used to treat a wide range of problems, including bladder weakness and weak pelvic floor muscles.
TimeCode Systems’ products are all designed for synchronising cameras and sound equipment used in the film and TV industry. I have created user guides for several products, including the SyncBac Pro, which connects to GoPro cameras and the :pulse, which is the ‘master’ station.
A better user experience with high quality hardware manuals
There are some common problems that I come across with operating manuals, particularly those for physical products. These problems usually come about because the writers are ex-engineers, and are taking an engineer’s view of the documentation, when it needs to be written from the perspective of a customer. People who build products think about them differently to the people that actually use them.
How do I make sure your hardware operating manuals provide a high quality end-user experience? By delivering content that includes:
- Topic-based approach. People don’t read manuals in order, from cover to cover. A topic-based approach allows people to dive straight in to a section and still make sense of it, even though they haven’t read ‘earlier’ sections.
- Appropriate language. For the most part, this means clear sentences, simple phrasing, and making sure there is a logical flow through the information. Some might say it should mean no jargon, but that’s not always the case. In some industries, the jargon is commonplace and using alternative terms leads to confusion.
- Ease of use. People need to be able to find the information they need, quickly and easily. Your topics need to be presented in a sensible order, and in larger manuals, indexing will help people too.
- Relevant examples. Stories work well as learning tools, so explaining concepts with realistic examples can help readers understand more quickly.
- Cross-references. Instead of expecting readers to have read everything in a particular order, your manual should use cross-references to guide them to related information.
- Clear and useful images. Sometimes, information is much easier to understand as a graphic. Plus, pages of uninterrupted text can make your manual look daunting, and put people off using it.
- Clearly visible notes, warnings, and cautions. If there are safety issues or just helpful tips that readers need to know, they have to stand out and use industry-standard colours and icons.
- Regulatory Information. Some industries have regulations and certain information has to be included in the instructions. For example, there are declarations that need to be included for products that use radio communications. Most of my clients are already aware of this, and it is just a case of adding the information. But if you don’t know what you need, I can help you to find out.
Take your operating manuals online
With modern technical writing tools like Paligo and MadCap Flare, it’s easy to create PDFs and HTML5 from the same set of content files. So you can have content designed for print and a stylish online help system, without the need for anything to be written twice. All that’s needed is a little extra formatting for each of the outputs.
Why would you want online help when a PDF can be presented online? Because PDF files can be large and take a long time to download and the formatting can be displayed differently on different devices. HTML5 online help gives a smoother, faster user experience, especially on smartphones.
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