What does Stack Overflow’s new documentation feature mean for tech writing?
Stack Overflow has recently announced the public beta release of its new documentation feature. That is, Stack Overflow now provides a platform for crowd-sourced documentation relating to any number of products, for the people, by the people.
For those of us managing the docs for widely-used products in particular, this means our customers may soon have access to an alternative, crowd-sourced documentation set.
What an awesome experiment for us as technical writers to follow! We’ll be able to see at first hand what our customers know they need, in terms of information about our products. Because this is Stack Overflow, the documented products are likely to be APIs, SDKs, and other developer-focused tools and technologies.
What if the documentation on Stack Overflow turns out to be voluminous and extremely useful – where would that leave us as technical writers working on proprietary doc sets? I think it will give us the opportunity to streamline our content, focusing even more than we do now on ensuring our information is up to date, and that our information architecture is the best we can make it.
In other words, we can ensure our target audiences can find what they need, even when they don’t know yet what that is.
Technical writing is hard. Information architecture is hard. The Q&A side of Stack Overflow works extremely well, because it focuses on short snippets of content that answer a particular question. It’s going to be very interesting indeed to see how well the new documentation feature works, with the more narrative demands of technical documentation.
An issue I foresee is that people will be tempted to kick off a topic, and then tire half way through and end up providing a link to the official documentation. Is that a bad thing? Tech writing know-how says our readers find it disconcerting to have to click around to find their information. It’s OK in a Q&A format, but not so good in a tutorial or step-by-step guide.
I really like Stack Overflow’s focus on sample-driven documentation!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this development. Where do you think it’ll go within the next few months, and how about within the next two years? Will it fizzle into nothingness, or explode into something huge and beautiful? Will the original Q&A form of Stack Overflow merge into the new documentation form, becoming something new?
Posted on 22 July 2016, in APIs, technical writing and tagged API documentation, Stack Overflow, technical communication, technical documentation, technical writer, technical writing. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.