Technical Writers Make Great Usability Testers – and Designers

Your technical writers are your first and best usability testers. In effect, they are the “canary in the coal mine”. If you let them, they’ll give you some of the best feedback you’ll ever get. And if you engage them early enough in the development process, they will give you great design suggestions, as well.

Technical writers are a great, relatively-untapped resource for usability. Here’s why.

  1. Technical writers explore every part of your system. 
    That includes an APIs — an often-overlooked area where usability considerations can make a big difference. Even the best usability-testing efforts for end users won’t match the coverage a technical writer gives you.
  2. Technical writers make their living being concerned with consistency.
    They have in-depth conversations about how to use commas and hyphens, and are constantly on the alert, to make sure that similar things are done in the same way, each and every time.
  3. Technical writers have usability as their primary concern.
    In the writing arena, the term is readability. But the concepts are very similar. A reader needs information that is presented in a clear and simple way, and sequenced in a manner that is easy to follow.  An end-user needs an app that is as easy-to-use and as intuitive as possible. In both cases, the thinking starts from the audience, and works back to the design.
    Learn more: Making an App “Usable” and “Intuitive”.

In fact, companies like Google are now hiring “usability engineers” to create the labels and instructions that are built into the app instead of (or in addition to) the help-systems and manuals that are generally created at the end of the process.

I can tell you from experience that a technical writer who comes to the party late becomes frustrated by the fact that no one is in a position to even listen to usability feedback, for lack of time to implement changes. Google has solved that problem by integrating them into the development stream, where their propensity for user-centered design can make a big impact.

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