Historically, technical communication, marketing, and other departments developing content did not work closely with each other. Each group offered the same justification: “Our content is completely different than theirs. We need to work on our own.”
Today, collaboration is increasing. Instead of working in isolation, departments are identifying shared content assets and pooling their resources to develop this content more efficiently.
Technical communication and marketing usually “own” large amounts of content. But there are other, less obvious places where high-value information is created:
- Product design and development. Product specifications, marketing requirements documents, and other design documents exist before products are created and often include information needed for technical and marketing content. Product developers are usually involved in content development, either as contributors or as expert reviewers.
- Training and education. For instructor-led training and e-learning, instructional designers develop student guides, instructor guides, job aids, and more. These training materials often use step-by-step instructions and other technical content. In our experience, about 50 percent of instructional content is (or should be) identical to information found in tech comm.
- Technical support. Technical support staff is usually the heaviest internal user of technical content. As end users call in with problems and questions, the technical support staff must find the answer—and quickly. In addition to using technical content, the technical support team often creates condensed “cheat sheets,” frequently asked question lists, troubleshooting procedures, or other information. Too often, this content is not contributed back to the technical communication, instructional design, and marketing teams.
- Software. Software products often contain technical content. For example, many complex software systems have extensive error messages. These messages should be documented and explained in the technical content. If the software and the error message explanations are generated from a single source, you can ensure that both sets of information are synchronized.
- Online help. Software engineers create unique identifiers for various interface components. The technical communication team creates content and matches the content up with the identifiers to enable context-sensitive online help. The online help files are developed by the tech comm team and then included in the software builds.
- Product interface labels. These are needed for hardware and software products. For example, a smartphone typically has a button (either physical or on a touchscreen) for making phone calls, labeled Call or Send. A common challenge for smartphone manufacturers is that this button has dozens or even hundreds of variations—at least one per supported language and often additional variations demanded by the cell phone carriers within a single language. And, of course, each smartphone has many of these types of labels. One solution is to store all of the labels in a database and extract the correct label based on the current language and carrier setting. This requires close collaboration between the engineering and technical content teams.
- Web services. The web services team manages the presentation, organization, and distribution of web content. Technical content published to the corporate web site should match the look and feel of other web site content.
- Sales. The sales team relies upon technical and marketing content for proposals and sales support materials. For example, if a potential customer has questions about specific features of a product, a salesperson may put together a custom package of information by compiling pertinent sections from user manuals, data sheets, and marketing materials.
Sharing content across departments improves the overall product quality by ensuring that customers receive consistent information and a unified message. At the same time, content sharing eliminates redundancy, which reduces the cost of content development. The challenge with shared content is cross-departmental collaboration. It is time-consuming and often difficult to establish strong working relationships across disparate teams.