Create Content That Users Need

I’ll admit that sometimes us Tech Writers think we’re the unsung customer heroes within organizations. That we’re the only ones who truly care about what users actually need.

In reality, there is so much we can learn from our peers across functions about how to deliver value to customers. There is one function, in particular, that has the most to gain or lose when it comes to creating value for customers. I’m talking about Sales, of course!

In a sales-oriented post by Wilson J. Pang, he describes the difference between a nice-to-have vs. must-have product. Naturally, must-have products are much easier to sell.

Does this mean that it is impossible to sell something that is nice-to-have?

Absolutely not. Matter of fact, you can turn ANY nice-to-have product into a must have by selling its benefits.

Technical communicators are experts at transforming jargon-heavy or complicated material into clear and concise content. The problem is that it is easy to stop there when our job isn’t done yet.

Yes, we have to document functionality. However, the subscription economy requires us to encourage product adoption every chance we get. To help our customers the most, and in a way that simultaneously helps our clients or companies (and therefore paychecks), we must orient our perspective based on user needs.

Wilson talks through the process of how to translate factual feature statements into benefits for sales and marketing content. We need to follow the same principle and weave value realization into all instructional content.

Our users do not need our content. They need the outcomes and value that our content enables them to experience.

You’re Welcome for Asking

One year back in high school, my math teacher called my parents to discuss my disruptive behavior. According to Joe-Math-Teacher, I asked too many questions when trying to understand new lessons. Fortunately, my Mom defended my inquisitive nature; rather than discourage me from asking questions in class, she signed me up for a summer journalism course at a nearby college!

Questionable Discovery

Although my math career was stifled and journalism wasn’t quite the right fit, my knack for asking questions has been a fundamental element in propelling my TechComm career.

Technical Writing is often a problem-solving process:

  • Who needs information or what does the user already know?
  • Where is the user along their journey or when will they need this information?
  • Why does the user encounter this question or issue?

The delight when I discover a miscommunicated detail or unexpected dependency is like a treasure hunt, and asking the right question to the right person is the only way to get the next clue!

Practice Makes Progress

Beyond information gathering, the practice of asking the right questions is crucial for professional development, process improvement, and deliverable optimization.

For example:

  • Find Opportunity – Seeking to be helpful is a driving force behind many of my career advancements. What’s needed that I can do or learn to do?
  • Uncover Assumptions – Journey mapping and process reengineering specifically require you to consider assumptions. Is there another way to accomplish the goal? What is a different benchmark we could strive for?
  • Prioritize Requirements – Determining the minimal viable product (MVP) for faster delivery or understanding success factors are essential to keep a project focused on outcomes. What are the objectives and key results needed?

What have you asked lately that’s led to positive results or progress?

STC Summit 2018

The #STC18 Technical Communication Summit is the annual conference organized by the Society for Technical Communication, which took place this year in Orlando on May 20-23, 2018.

Incredibly, it was the 65th anniversary. This milestone illustrates the longevity of the STC organization. This year’s theme, Communicate the Future, exemplifies the forward-looking focus that we will all benefit from.

I attended to represent as President of the STC San Diego Chapter and to present about Future-Proof Writing – an extension of my Effective Content Framework tailored for the conference theme.

See more conference highlights on the STC San Diego blog: 2018 STC Summit – Cheers to a milestone birthday and the future!

Read more about the conference theme and industry trends: Communicate the future at #STC18 and beyond.

STC Summit 2017

The Technical Communication Summit is the annual conference for STC. The #STC17 Summit was May 7-10, 2017 at the Gaylord Resort at National Harbor in Washington, DC.


  • The 2017 theme was ‘Gain the Edge to Get Results’ and spanned more than 75 different sessions during the conference.
  • The San Diego Chapter won Most Improved Community!
  • Browse through all the #STC17 Tweets.

Sara Feldman at STC17 Summit

Hot Topics

These topics either had multiple sessions or a lot of interest among conference attendees.

  • Strategies for Introverts
  • Terminology management and translation memory
  • DITA – Even if you don’t have the business case to implement DITA, more people are catching on that you can apply DITA principles to non-DITA setups, a.k.a. structured authoring.
  • Analytics & Reporting – TechComm is paying more attention to content analytics, well beyond just article feedback and ratings.
  • Journey Mapping – Capturing customer interactions has been around for a while, but this specific methodology is getting extra attention lately.
  • Accessibility and ADA Compliance – This is starting to get more attention from a content-perspective.
  • Agile Writing – 4 different sessions explored this topic.

Originally posted for STC San Diego: 2017 Technical Communication Summit Summary

Panel Discussion: The Nuts and Bolts on Technical Editing and Writing

I enjoyed joining Mark Fogg and Elizabeth Gray in this panel discussion for San Diego Professional Editors Network (SD/PEN). We answered questions about how we became technical writers and editors, the various tech industries and opportunities in San Diego, how to succeed in the field, and more.

Technically Speaking: The Nuts and Bolts on Technical Editing and Writing (March 16, 2017)

Mark Fogg, Sara Feldman, Elizabeth Gray

Discussion Highlights

  • Learn to love style guides. Technical Writers will reference various style guides, depending on the subject-matter or client. Whichever one is required should become your new best friend! A great house style guide example is the MailChimp style guide (which happens to be included in Websites I like).
  • Technical Editors vs. Technical Writers. Interestingly, my co-panelists had a much clearer distinction between these roles than I’ve encountered in my experience. I’m researching this topic and will post more about it soon.
  • Contractor vs. Full Time Employee (FTE). We all noted that contract positions appear to be more common now than FTE opportunities, at least in San Diego. Contract positions unfortunately don’t come with benefits. On the other hand, FTE positions can come with extra hours (especially around major deadlines or product releases) while contractor hours are much more consistent and predictable.

Moderator, Chris Zook

Learn More

  • SD/PEN has a mission to “To support and develop top-notch editors and to promote their services to writers, publishers, businesses, and others whose success depends on effective communication.” Check out the next SD/PEN event!
  • STC San Diego connects you with networking, educational and job opportunities so you can grow in the rewarding field of technical communication. Check out the next STC San Diego event!