An Independent Technical Writer or a Content Specialist—a Product Owner

June 21, 2016 at content strategy, technical communication

When hired to work as an independent contractor, I do not work only as a technical writer or a content specialist. I need to bring together all my skills in UX design, UX writing, content strategy and a marketing perspective. I cannot really contribute to the product by merely writing procedures, instructions, or product copy.

Here are a few examples.

A B2B Portal on Deals

At present, I am working on a B2B portal for deals. The original project scope statement by the client read as “To develop FAQs for my B2B website”. When I saw the product, I realized that we need a Help Center for technical questions. For instance, the following questions cannot be a part of the FAQs.

  • How I can set the printing cap for my coupons?
  • How I can use a promotion code while upgrading my business account?
  • How I can publish a coupon?

The basic objective of FAQs is to share non-technical information that helps in the buying decision of customers. These questions help customers understand the product for the value and its use to them. FAQs do not include information on how to use the product.

I proposed it to the client and we were immediately planning a Help Center, in addition to the FAQs. We agreed to use Zendesk for Help Center.

I quickly noticed that the UI texts were poor. As I started preparing a log of UI texts, I found issues in usability and gaps in customer journey. In one week, the number of ToDo items in the Basecamp log crossed 100.

As I dived deeper, there were visible chinks in how business goals were mapped to the product UX.

I was careful not to bombard the client or its engineering team with too many questions or comments, but I wanted to:

  • Give them some food for thought that the product needs review for different eyes
  • Highlight the issues that were important and that needed priority attention
  • Communicate what I could see based on my skills and experience

The technical writing task was put to hold because I needed to do product review from UX and CX perspectives. Soon, I was doing business analysis with questions as:

  • Why we need the discount in % and in $ too? [Last week, we removed the discount in $ option.]
  • Why we have two different types of users—Shoppers and Businesses? [My review revised the whole product registration process.]
  • How a user can renew a deactivated business account? [Now users cannot renew or upgrade a deactivated business; they need to contact support team for such a requirement.]

In all this exercise, I was never doing technical writing. Of course there are constraints for budget and go-to-market strategy but I was trying to make technical writing more meaningful and goal-oriented for the business.

So in this technical writing project, I owned the product fully.

To own a product is particularly important for independent technical writers because they need to understand and extract lot of information from the product team, proactively. And since they do not have conventional boundaries of working in an internal team, they can bring real value to the table by contributing in UX, product design, customer journey, and even in business logic. This is little different from how in-house technical writers work because here the processes are defined (even if flawed), and roles are assigned to the product team, including for technical writers.

Project 2: A Wedding Planning Portal

The original project scope was content writing. I said that I do not do only content writing as I like to get involved in planning and strategy for why you need this or that content, in what all content types, and I have a role to play in how content architecture should be setup. The engineering team was already developing the portal (without a content person in the team so far), and the client needed a mobile app too.

The scope included developing product knowledge base (technical writing) and I needed to align all content-specific processes towards the big picture content goals.

I had a meeting with the engineering team and the following two signals made me put the project on hold for the moment.

  • The team did not really understand my questions on adaptive content, content architecture, taxonomy, content types, and how the Body field publishes content on mobile.
  • They were mostly quiet or not-so-confident to my questions on how content fits into the product architecture.

Another Example: Technical Writer and Marketer?

I developed a product knowledge base of a team-communication-collaboration-tool. The organization has a blog where the product team talks about the audience pain points and how the product can solve their problems. When I had a look at the blog, I immediately noticed some issues in the blog’s information architecture. Here is a snapshot from my review of their blog.

Vinish Garg Technical Writer UX

So all independent technical writers or content specialists need to own the product to contribute in true sense. You do not own it if you:

  • Do not try to understand how the product UX responds to the business requirements
  • Do not have a content metrics and measurement process (not even an informal and early stage process to capture and analyze basic metrics)
  • Disregard the inconsistencies in UI texts across different screens and interfaces
  • Do not try to align the authoring style with the organization’s voice and tone as being referenced by marketers, customer support team, or founders (in case of startups)

If all these are part of your skills and content plans, you are a product owner. If your LinkedIn profile does not communicate it, update your profile, today.