Boy, it must be getting harder and harder to be a web writer. I’m reading Content Strategy for the Web, and the web writer job description is intimidating! The quote that stuck with me talks about the Web Writers Real Job: problem solvers who write well. I do hope this quote describes many technical communicators today.
“The web writer’s mission? Useful, usable content that’s also enjoyable. It’s her job to begin a conversation with the reader that results in mutually beneficial outcomes all around. A problem solved. An article found. A connection made.”
All of these outcomes can be tied to thinking about technical documentation as a conversation starter. My book talks about social media enabling those conversations. Often, though, social distribution is simply the technique, but the web itself is the medium. When writing in that medium, we must be the best writers with the most considerations taken into account while writing. Search engine optimization. Style and voice when writing for the web versus print. Information architecture, organization, and label naming. Maintaining a content inventory. Auditing and editing content. Testing content. Handling workflow, reviews, and deadlines. The list could go on and on.
And here’s the thing. People are not backing down from figuring out a great web strategy despite the challenges, and finding great success. I had a great lunchtime conversation with Brian Massey, the Conversion Scientist. He basically mapped technical publications’ typical goals to the personas that help you encourage a conversion. Fascinating! He describes four personas typically used by marketing writers on the web in the blog post, Relate to Four, Connect with Thousands:
Methodical – Probably the first persona to come to mind when talking about traditional technical documentation, perhaps not even all that web-hungry. They want proof, answers, solutions, in an orderly fashion. They’d probably download and read a PDF file if it’s offered.
Competitive – They want information that will make them better, smarter, or cutting-edge. They may be the implementer at a company who will train others in the product you’re documenting, so they’d want scenarios that make them look good.
Humanist – To me, this type of persona, one who looks for relationships and the human element, might be difficult to deliver technical documentation to. They might pick up the phone to call tech support faster than looking up a question online, unless a community is behind the documentation that they can relate to. The humanist may also appreciate case studies that help them relate to a real story.
Spontaneous – They want to know the answer quickly and move on, so scannable headlines and topic authoring with any topic being a potential entry point will probably work well for them.
I’m definitely looking at my web writing in new ways. Not just in terms of deliverables, but also in terms of the content I can deliver to the right audiences, to help them meet their goals.