RE: Do I have to understand the material?

Subject: RE: Do I have to understand the material?
From: Allen Schaaf <soundbyte -at- sound-by-design -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2002 10:20:58 -0700

At 09:59 AM 8/19/02, Christensen, Kent wrote:

Coming late to this thread ...

IMHO the closest to "getting it" comment was from "Doc" suggesting "keeping the users in mind."


I'd offer that "understand the material" is a phrase that's just too vague ... what the tech writer should "understand" is what the *user* understands when he or she uses the product and its manual to perform his or her job.
Said another way, the tech writer ought to know how to *be* a user.

Ok, maybe the tech writer won't be a welder, and another poster indicated instead "welders are involved in the final review of the manual." Good. But, that's pretty vague, too. More to the point, if the tech writer is indeed a good user, he or she is still a sample of one.

The point, then, is manuals should be tested. By users. And, for heaven's sake, don't think the subject matter expert is a user--he or she knows too much and isn't objective.

The answer to the question "do I have to understand the material" is another question: Do I have a meaningful test plan for my manual? Ideally testing by (some) users occurs prior to final publication. Also falling under the heading "meaningful" is intelligent selection of the sample of users. And using valid prototypes or actual final production samples. Etc.

Amen! Software is QA'd, why not manuals?

The lack of end user input in manual production is the weakest link in tech pubs, but get a manager to understand and provide time for it? Pigs'll fly first.

Allen Schaaf
Sr. Tech Writer
Currently looking for work, not slavery.

Who says bad manuals aren't a risk to your life? Just ask the passengers of the jet where the engine caught fire because the company's maintenance manual was wrong about how to install one key bolt. (NTSB Report on GE CF6 engine fire, American Airlines flight 574, July 9, 1998. <>)

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RE: Do I have to understand the material?: From: Christensen, Kent

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