What Business Analysts Can Learn From Technical Writers

Most of my time, especially at the tail end of software development projects, is spent preparing user guides for end users. I try to be creative by including screenshots and business process models so that readers can completely understand what the automated processes are about, and how the supporting business applications work. As a BA, you may find yourself in a situation where you need to prepare user guides, test plans or other technical documents for end users. 

This article comprises quick tips BAs can learn from technical writers and apply when preparing technical documents.

Know the characteristics of your audience/end users

Technical writers take time to understand the diversity of their audience or end users. They perform extensive research on their educational backgrounds, professional backgrounds, English language abilities, communication preferences etc. 

As a BA, you can gain insight into various user profiles by conducting formal analysis via the use of surveys, interviews and questionnaires or informally, by discussing with stakeholders/end users. Gaining insight into the characteristics of the user base will help you understand users’ requirements in terms of system functionality as well as training needs. For example, a user guide designed for a novice audience may require a glossary where technical terms and acronyms are defined while one designed for experts does not necessarily need to have this information. Understanding your audience implies knowing when to remove unnecessary information, thereby saving you from expending effort on sections of your document which are not relevant.

Understand why end users would read your document

What does each user category expect to learn from your document? What are their goals? Speak extensively with the users who will read and use your document. What they expect to learn is also a reflection of their requirements or what they need the system to do.

Attend meetings where the use of the application or product is discussed. 

This will help in gaining insight into requirements that may have been missed as well as details of what to include in your document.

Understand the basics of the job functions which require use of the application or product.

Job titles are different from job functions so you will need to dig deeper beyond job titles such as “HR Assistant” to find out which system functionalities are used by each relevant stakeholder and what information they would expect to see in your document.

Aim to simplify

How can you design the document in such a way that it helps end users?

How can you present it as simply as possible?

Technical writers are concerned about simplicity and ease of navigation of their documents as much as BAs are concerned about specifying requirements clearly and simply so that they can be implemented with ease by the development team. When preparing specification documents or user guides, assume your readers know nothing and put relevant information in the document, even if you think they know it already. What is obvious to you may not always be obvious to your readers.

Be clear on which user group(s) you are writing for

Users may be experts, novices or somewhere in between. Trying to write for all groups at the same time may mean you end up turning in projects late or wasting time including unnecessary details. Be clear from the beginning of the writing process whom your target audience is, though in some cases, you may need to write for multiple user groups.

Use personas

Personas may be used to represent your audience. All the information you’ve gained from audience analysis should be used to bring the persona to life within your document.

Though often reserved as a task for technical writers in larger organizations, it’s helpful for BAs to know how to prepare technical documents such as user guides, as the same knowledge is transferable to the preparation of requirement specification documents.

References

Elements of Audience Analysis
Audience Analysis: Just who are these guys?
Personas and the five W’s: Developing Content that Meets Reader Needs, Pt. 1