On days when I’m not slammed and nobody needs my help, I have a morning ritual that doesn’t seem terribly common, even though it’s one of the top things I’d list for what makes—and keeps—me good at my job.
I spend a lot of time reading support tickets.
Not all of them, just the ones that mention links to the documentation that I work on. Some days, it’s very ho hum, but on other days (often) it’s an illuminating experience. I even tweeted about it this morning.
Nothing like reading through tickets to get back in touch and remember who the docs are for/what users really need. #techcomm is a service.
— Sarah Kiniry (@SarahKiniry) April 17, 2015
Which of course got me thinking that perhaps it would be a good post subject. I really think that everyone who writes software documentation should read through at least a handful of related tickets every so often. So far, I’ve found three reasons that really stick out to me, and help me in my day-to-day work:
1. You don’t know how people use the software until you read their experiences.
Yes, as technical writers we can make scads of recommendations, document best practices, give the “happy path” use… but until you see what customers are saying and the problems they run into, you don’t have the whole picture. Reading what they say, directly from them, gives an insight into how they use the software, how they want to use the software, and what’s counterintuitive to them as they do so.
2. There is no better place to stay up-to-date on your industry’s jargon.
If you use Global English, you probably spend a decent amount of time translating industry jargon into Global English-friendly terminology. Even if you don’t use Global English, it’s likely that you encounter terms that are familiar to developers or to customers, and need to understand exactly how those terms are used. Seeing how customers refer to what they’re doing is just as important as the actual task itself.
3. You’ll find ways to improve existing documents.
A document can be 100% accurate, contain all of the relevant information, and still need improvement. Perhaps this means moving the most-used options to the top of the page. Maybe a warning needs to be highlighted with a graphical element. Maybe the titles of two documents are a little too similar, and one should be retitled. In most cases, there’s something that could be done to make finding the right information even easier.