How to Take Technical Writing and Make It More Accessible
In technical writing, accessibility refers to the ability for users to search, acquire, download, and understand complex communications. There are a variety of ways to do this, and technical writers have been discussing best practices for quite some time. From employing standard version control and consistent titles or doc numbers to utilizing Content Management Systems (CMS) or searchable databases for users — accessibility is a vital aspect of technical writing and complex documentation.
No matter if you are a CMS administrator or the technical writer in charge of formatting and delivering technical communication — version control must be employed in order to ensure users are getting the latest and greatest version of your technical documentation. Whether the data is found in the filename, the CMS, or in the properties of the document — a robust version control regime should be developed in organizations that rely on maintaining update communication, and especially if said organization is dealing with hundreds of thousands of documents.
Users must be able to access documentation through search queries conducted via web or in an organization’s intranet. There are a variety of CMS programs and database development software that can help mitigate the influx and development of many documents, and can be a life-saver if there are many users attempting to search through a vast collection of technical documents. Employing such software also frees up time from CMS administrators or technical writers from responding to several requests to obtain or access specific documents from a user population.
What’s In a Filename?
Some organizations make the mistake of including as much information in a filename as possible. In companies that make this mistake, it may not be uncommon to come across a document that is named “Organizational_chart_current_March52018_ver2.pdf” It can make even those most laid-back of technical writers or CMS administrators cringe. Short, concise filenames should be used; version control and dates should be maintained in the document properties and meta data. Be strategic with filenames — the shorter and more relevant is the aim here.
One technical writer on Medium notes that structured content is just as important as learning how to manage meta data and obtaining a space to store the documents. Using headings, lists, alt-text for images, and tables wisely will not only make for stronger documentation, it may help search queries return with more relevant documentation for users. This will help reduce support calls to find specific documents and thus increasing the amount of time technical writers and CMS administrators can spend on making searchable databases more robust and efficient.
Employing these simple principles into your technical writing strategy will go a long way when it comes to user accessibility. Users will cease calling the help desk to find otherwise easily-searchable documentation stored within CMS dashboards or other databases.
Jody R. is a writer based in New Orleans, LA. He has developed marketing and technical writing documentation for a variety of clients worldwide. On his spare time, he enjoys travel, guitar, and a quality whiskey.