User-Centric Content: The future of technical writing

As content developers, we write about new features and functionality for the products we support. Years ago, our common approach was to walk users through the software interface by:
• Defining input fields
• Identifying common UI controls (buttons, options, and menus)
• Explaining how to search for data and select from lists
• Providing an abundance of screen captures and feedback statements in task topics

Although our products matured, our writing strategy remained the same. As we added new information, our documentation became unwieldy and difficult to use.

Current users are very different from those in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Today, anyone who uses Google to search for answers or orders products on Amazon knows how to conduct filtered searches, use common Windows functionality, and complete fields on forms. Increasingly, audiences skip over this information and expect instant answers and succinct, scannable instructions.

To support today’s audience, our documentation strategy should shift to a user-centric approach that:
• Supports user workflows
• Provides critical conceptual information (the “what” and “why”)
• Documents tasks rather than the user interface
• Explains potential outcomes
• Uses intuitive, task-oriented headings
• Communicates in clear, concise language
• Promotes established best practices

To help users quickly access information, we should:
• Reduce wordiness
• Eliminate obvious field descriptions
• Limit explanations of commonly understood functionality
• Avoid self-evident results statements and screen captures

In 2019, the Allscripts Documentation Center of Excellence began transitioning our product documentation to user-centric strategies through new guidelines and substantive editorial reviews. We also presented these strategies to our internal stakeholders, including cross-functional business analysts and subject matter experts, to inform them of these changes and gain consensus.

Beginning in 2020, Allscripts is adopting an incremental approach to user-centric documentation across our repository for both new and existing content. We will structure and write new content that focuses on users’ needs. As we update existing content, we will streamline it for improved readability and scannability.

This presentation covers the user-centric guidelines we established, the strategy to bring all writers onboard, and the obstacles we faced.

What can the audience expect to learn?

With considerable workloads and aggressive deadlines, technical writers often disregard existing content that isn’t directly affected by new features or functionality. As a result, we continue to produce content that no longer meets our clients’ needs. This presentation provides strategies to evaluate and streamline our technical content for today’s audiences.

Meet the presenter

Katy Campion is the Managing Editor of the Documentation Center of Excellence at Allscripts Healthcare, LLC, a healthcare IT company. Her career spans over 30 years in technical communication, user experience design, and usability disciplines. Katy and her team of editors provide substantive editorial reviews and copy edits for approximately 50 writers. Katy also oversees and facilitates the style guidelines committee and the user-centric content project. In her spare time, Katy enjoys playing the piano and tending her perennial gardens. She’s also an alumna, “Forever Buff,” and avid fan of her University of Colorado Buffaloes.

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