Information gathering, in the simplest terms, is the process of collecting information that will go into the document. Although it seems like an easy task, it is very important to understand the purpose of the document before gathering information.
If the technical documentation you are working on is to get the users to install and get started with certain software, you should be able to identify the pain points a user may go through. This can be done with the help of SMEs, user feedback, feedback from the support team, etc. Information gathering is the most crucial step that leads the document development lifecycle. Therefore, it is always beneficial to work with experienced technical writers for information gathering, otherwise, the whole document may go wrong.
A technical writer should not only be able to identify pain points but also fill the information gaps. During this phase, it is also imperative for the writers to ensure effective time management. It is so because information gathering might cost the writers a considerable amount of time, if not done previously or planned appropriately.
One thing which is more important than the collection of the information is its segregation into three classes: MUST, COULD, and SHOULD
First of all, as mentioned above, understanding the purpose of the document is crucial for segregating the information. Only then you can effectively classify the information into the following:
MUST: Add all the information that will be required by the user.
SHOULD: Add all the additional information that the user should know. To illustrate, if the document is about the installation of software, this section covers additional information such as compatible browsers.
COULD: This information can actually be avoided. However, if the time as space allows, you can add this information to your document.
Four strategies that will help you in gathering information
You will need a proactive mindset to understand the product, features, and functionalities. Many times, the technical writers are expected to test the product and identify the pain points themselves. Moreover, getting hands-on experience in troubleshooting enables effective documentation.
Your proactiveness also counts in terms of the knowledge and information you already have or come prepared with. It involves the understanding of the technology, knowledge about competitors, their products and documentation, insights into the domain, etc. This, in turn, helps in adhering to the ongoing industry and technology trends. However, this information is something you need to work on yourself as it is not generally provided by SMEs.
The right amount of curiosity
Information gathering can be monotonous. It is possible that your mind might drift away during meetings and important conversations. Therefore, it is better to have a streamlined process for information gathering.
First of all, always document the minutes of meetings. You should keep a track of all the points discussed. Besides, you should try to understand the technicalities discussed in the meetings. It’ll help you further in asking questions.
Asking the right questions
You need to ask a lot of questions! There’s no shortcut for this. Your SME will mostly only answer the questions you ask. So, make sure you cover all the areas that come under the scope of the technical document.
To ask the right questions, you need to understand the product and industry in detail. This, coupled with the SME interview, will help you in gathering and segregating the information for documentation.
Knowing your audience
The role of the audience while gathering information can’t be underestimated. The audience, their behavioral analysis, socio-economic class, and so on matter while gathering information and identifying the pain points. It further helps in segregating the information into must, should, and could.
Information gathering, therefore, is the foundation of your documentation. Every bit of the content which is added in the document comes from the information gathered during the planning and research phases. Therefore, this is something you can’t afford to go wrong with.
Metapercept has a dedicated team of content writers. Our team is well experienced in technical writing and structured documentation. If you have any queries regarding the information gathering or documentation process for your organization, we will be happy to help!