The Future of Technical Documentation

Elllis, over on the Cherryleaf Technical Authors Blog, points out 5 secrets regarding the future of technical documentation. He also shows why user-generated content, which may seem like a blessing, can end up causing more re-work than you expected.

The problem with user-generated content

Here are the key points:

  1. If you pick the wrong technological platform, or design without strategy or planning, you can end up with incomplete content that Google will expose high in its list of results.
  2. If your wiki has a poor search function, which is the case with many wikis, then users will struggle.
  3. Someone needs to edit the content.
  4. Someone needs to own the platform and content; and need budget and resources.
  5. Be careful or these communities can challenge your ability to single source and re-use content.

Of all these points, the one that concerns me the most is ownership.

If the technical writers don’t own the content, or have to argue their position, then it undermines their role.

Likewise, if user-generated content gets mixed with ‘official’ documents, then users may have a hard time telling the difference. Which is which?

You then, as the technical writer, have to tidy up other peoples documents. If you don’t, they’ll assume you wrote it anyway.

Here’s the problem.

How do you get users to contribute to technical documentation, i.e. on an open source project, while also controlling the quality of the material?

What guidelines do you use?

How do you train users?

Is this approach practical or would it be quicker to write it yourself?