Everyone can write, or can they ?
Just having a subject matter expert write the manual does not guarantee that users will understand. Usually they don't. Writing understandable and concise instructions requires some knowledge of the product, but even more understanding of the questions a user might have.
Writing for readability is not something we learn in school, especially if it concerns transferring expert knowledge to novice users. Apart from being able to write, authors need to learn about switching mindsets and thinking out of the box. A good manual requires as much craftmanship as creating the product it is written for.
Writing for reuse
Writing minimalist, reusable documentation is a skill that does not come natural to most technical authors. But it is something that can be learned, even without having expensive editing tools available. The main part of this skill is in the mind: knowing how to help users accomplish their tasks.
Apart from basic minimalist methods, there are many specific techniques in modern technical authoring that require in-depth understanding. Courses for beginners and advanced technical authors can be delivered on-site and on demand.
Let the computer do the tedious work
Many repetitive tasks can easily be automated using available tools in most editing environments. Not only does this increase the efficiency of technical authors, it also reduces the chance of errors - as attention tends to fade when we go into routine mode. FrameMaker offers a range of options for automating tasks, either by using built-in capabilities or installing cheap plug-ins.
Learning basic scripting, either in FrameScript or Adobe's ExtendScript (available from FrameMaker 10), is not as difficult as it might seem. And it may well increase both the productivity and the job satisfaction of your documentation team.
To find out how your team's skills can be improved, contact Jang.