RE: What should an introductory seminar on tech writing cover?

Subject: RE: What should an introductory seminar on tech writing cover?
From: "neha ." <snehasn -at- hotmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Thu, 15 Jun 2000 14:05:54 GMT

Hi All,
One important topic that is hard to find in tech writing courses and seminars is how to interview engineers. How do you effectively extract information? What are the right questions? What other methods can you use to gather information (e.g., reviewing requirement and design documents; or sitting with the software yourself, if it's ready)?

Maybe this doesn't belong in an introductory seminar, but interviewing engineers and info gathering in general is definitely an important part of technical writing. And it tends to be under-emphasized.

As a matter of discussion, here are a few essential questions a tech writer might ask developers or engineers:

--What's the purpose of the software? What's the business process it supports? (note: engineers may or may not clearly know how program ties into the business)
--Who's going to use it? What are we assuming the user already knows about computers? About the business?
--What platform/s does the app run on?
--What was the program written in - Visual C, PowerBuilder, Pl1, etc.?
--Do we have an inventory of all windows/dialogs, and their GUI objects already compiled? (If not, you as the tech writer compile one).
--What error messages might a user receive? How do they resolve these? How is the resolution communicated to users?

Another helpful item in tech writing training is how to EFFICIENTLY gather details such as field definitions and descriptions of all GUI objects. This can become a huge daunting task for large systems (e.g., a system with over 2,500 objects that need to be detailed). Although requirements and design documents are usually - though not always -available, they are often too sketchy.

Information gathering is an important topic that should be a large part of tech writing trainig, but it is often under-emphasized or missing altogether.

What do you think?

-Neha Sharad
(freelance tech writer in the Wash DC area)
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