Service technicians are definitely one of the most important internal target groups for technical writers.
However, do we really know what information requirements service technicians have? How do they use the information that technical documentation offers? And is the existing information even useful in a concrete case? A survey helped to clarify these questions, and it identified tasks for the technical authoring.
What information do service technicians need?
To answer this question, we surveyed 52 service technicians from seven machine manufacturers anonymously. While this is not a statistically relevant volume, the survey had enough participants to gather interesting impressions. We were interested in the relevance of existing information offers for machine repair: functional purpose, structural system construction, system functionality and behavior, relationships and interdependencies within the system, known fault patterns and best-practice measures for solving them, possibilities for intervention and their effects, as well as strategies and tactical rules.
The evaluation shows that service technicians use almost every type of information . The option “unnecessary” was hardly ever selected in the survey. At first glance, this is good news, as nobody likes to be producing information for the circular file. However, the survey also makes clear that this information is not completely and not solely in the hands of the technical authoring.
Confusing Document Landscape
In fact, the information pool is distributed across various departments and systems. This by itself already makes it difficult to access all potentially useful documents. In addition, the various departments’ points of view are quite diverse. Depending on the department’s tasks, the focus is on project progress, product functionality, or product characteristics. The documents lie disconnected one next to the other.
This creates difficulties for the service technician when searching for information, when choosing and evaluating information quality, and when comparing information from different sources. The problem is heightened by the fact that the different departments – in contrast to the technical authoring – don’t use consistent terminology management. Obsolete terminology, colloquialisms, and temporary names sneak into the documents. This then makes it difficult for service technicians to acquire information, and leads, when a concrete service case arises, to delays, or may even cause the repair to fail.
More service – but how?
The survey showed that service technicians need the information created by the technical authoring. In fact, they need even more. They need an integrated information flow between the departments. Service technicians have a need for information which significantly exceeds the usual user information.
On the other hand, answering the question how service technicians use the available information is not easy. The need for information changes depending on the various problem, action and product contexts. For this reason, the flood of information must be edited in a way that service technicians can easily find and use the information they’re looking for.
Technical writers are often already well prepared for this, as they work with information models that make the connection clear between discrete pieces of information. When content delivery platforms are added to component content management systems , service technicians benefit from the information connections and can find the right content much more easily. Enriching the CDP content with non-authoring content (e.g. circuit diagrams, change notes, etc.) significantly enhances the usefulness for the service technician. For the technical authoring, this is a chance to prove and increase their added value for the company. They move away from being document writers and managers and become knowledge managers and cross-departmental service providers.
Konrad Drohomirezky was service technician for 10 years before he started working as technical writer in 1998. He studied technical communication at the Donau University Kres (2012), and since 2008 he has been the manager of the documentation and training department at Salvagnini Maschinenbau GmbH (Austria).