Keep marketing away from the documentation

Marketing and technical writing. They’re at two ends of a spectrum. As a former co-worker once said “We deal with facts. Marketing deals in hype.” That might seem a bit extreme, but that’s the way it sometimes feels.

But in some circles, there’s a feeling that marketing should be involved in the creation of user manuals. I’ve heard a number of people, notably Kathy Sierra, argue that marketing should play an integral role in the the documentation process.

Darren Barefoot (with whom Aaron and I will be appearing on a DocTrain panel in May), on the other hand, disagrees. This older post explains at length why documentation should be kept out of the hands of the marketing department.

Darren makes one really solid point:

The user has already bought the product. They want to know how it works, not why it’s good. Often the people using the product are not the people who bought it. They don’t care why it’s good. They just want to know how (not why) it will make their lives easier.

In a few instances in my experience, the documentation that I’ve worked on has been used as part of marketing and sales efforts. The folks involved in pushing the software didn’t have a hand in writing the docs, but they did use the manuals and help to do what Darren mentioned: show potential customers what the application can do. In a couple of cases, the documentation played a small role in making the sale.