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Are you talking to me? Personas in technical documentation

Personas have been making their way into technical manuals through a marketing-shaped side door. Product Management and Marketing departments alike have long been using personas to target potential buyers, but their content isn’t the only thing buyers see.

Nine out of ten potential customers now look at technical documentation before making a purchasing decision, so why should personas not also be used when creating technical product information?

What is persona in writing?

While statistics on user groups can give us an idea of who we are writing for, personas are used to humanise and target a group of prototypical users.

Lists of personal details including names, job titles and descriptive terms are combined with images to create posters and interactive displays about the persona.

These details can come from surveys, raw data about the target market and interviews with existing customers. Having a visual representation of each of the target user groups can help writers tailor content towards an individual, rather than a hazy group of people.

Using personas for technical communications

But what does this mean for technical content? Does it really matter who we are writing for, as long as the information is correct?

Each persona should represent a different user group. Each user group has different information needs, and may use a different means of accessing this information.

A well fleshed-out persona can tell you how busy they are, what size screen they view information on, and exactly what kind of information they need. We can differentiate between users who work with the product every day, and those who use it as a means to an end.

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Applying personas to technical product information

Instead of writing a guide for ‘The User’, technical writers can aim specific content at the main user groups, for example, Help Desk agents, Operations engineers, Users, or Administrators.

Two of these groups are discussed below.

Characteristics of the Help Desk agent

  • Internal audience
  • Customer-facing
  • Pressed for time
  • Desk-based

Help Desk agents interact with the product every day, so are very familiar with the main elements of the product, although maybe not the detailed workings under the hood.

For an agent to quickly address a customer query, they need quick access to the right kind of information:

  • Easily accessible, for example in a searchable knowledge base or wiki
  • The most common procedures customers might ask about
  • Only information relevant to the customer’s needs, not details of how every part of the product works in complex jargon.

Agents need to be made aware of product updates or new information as it is published and in a way that ties into their normal working day.

Characteristics of Administrators

  • External audience
  • Information source for other product users
  • Desk-based
  • May not have the product yet (potential purchaser)

Administrators are not familiar with the product. Their key focus is on increasing their team’s efficiency, so they are only interested in knowing how the product can help them achieve their goals.

They require a bank of both procedural and background information so that they can administer the product on behalf of their team as well as support their team with additional information. Information about new features is valued because it helps them improve their team.

This audience may also contain prospective customers viewing technical specifications to help in making a purchasing decision.

Personas in technical documentation

Technical communications should be accurate, accessible and appropriate to their audience. At 3di we use personas to help focus our writing for the audience so that content is as relevant and helpful as it can be.

Just as personas have been helping marketing departments send the right messages to the right prospective customers, they can help technical writers provide the right information to the right user groups.

What are your thoughts on using personas in technical communication content? How closely aligned is your technical content and marketing content?

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George Lewis

George Lewis

George works as 3di’s Service Delivery Director. Passionate about helping each individual team member reach their full potential, George enjoys combining their various strengths and skills in order to achieve the best results for our clients. Outside of work George can be found cycling, reading books on business and psychology, as well as taking the odd trip to Spain or Germany.View Author posts

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