Re: Oh, those tender users (longish)

Subject: Re: Oh, those tender users (longish)
From: "Bonnie Granat" <bgranat -at- att -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 30 Dec 2000 14:12:32 -0500

-----Original Message-----
From: David Orr <dorr -at- ORRNET -dot- com>

>I didn't catch the start of this thread, but a recent posting said:
>"Needs of the user" and "understanding the product" are the same thing.
>I agree with this formulation if it means that the user must be led to
>understanding the product by the writer. If it means the needs of the user
>are equivalent to the writer's understanding of the product, it's
>false. If the latter were true, programmers would be the best writers of
>user documentation, which is historically not true. Five minutes in a
>usability lab will demonstrate conclusively that "understanding the
>must reside in the user, not the writers or programmers, for the user to
>operate the product.

What I mean by my statement is that what users need by and large (after all,
why are they using the product?) is understanding of the product. That
understanding can include how to accomplish specific tasks, the meaning of
those tasks, and how the product can help them do what they want to do. If I
am a user of Microsoft Access who has never even heard the word "database",
my needs are rather simple. If writers unload all their knowledge about
databases upon me, I won't thank you. However, if they tell me what I need
to know to understand how the product can help me do what I want to do (what
I want to do is _not_ "use a computer program", but rather perform another
task with the assistance of a computer program).

I was addressing the statements that implied that "needs" of users are
something separate and apart from understanding of the product. I'm saying
that what the user needs is understanding of the product.

>A lot has been written lately about the writer's need to understand the
>product technically before writing. But how far does that understanding
>to extend? For example, I couldn't tell you how a single line of Windows NT
>is coded, but I can operate the software efficiently. I can also write
>instructions for operating Windows application software without
>understanding a single line of code. Yes, a certain understanding of
>underlying databases and data processing (what happens to the data) might
>be necessary to explain the operation of the software to a user. However,
>understanding of the product doesn't need to approach that of a programmer.
>Nor do I need that level of understanding to get the programmer's respect.

Absolutely. I think those writers who insist that technical writers be
technical whizzes are possibly frustrated techies who have had to "settle"
for writing about what they cannot excel in professionally. I can find no
other explanation for the seemingly intense need to require of technical
writers a level of technical expertise that is not recognized as being
necessary for technical writing among technical communication professionals
(and even academics in the field).

I agree with what you said in the remainder of your post.

I wonder if some of the insistence on a high level of technical proficiency
is not a low-level misapprehension of the meaning of the term "technical
writing". Admittedly, it is a term that has application to a wide variety of
writing, but in the sense that most of use are using it on this list, it
means not the mastery of technical subject matter, but rather the
communication of technical content to users who have varying levels of
information needs.

Bonnie Granat

Bonnie Granat

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