Re: Tech writer as "user"

Subject: Re: Tech writer as "user"
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 20 Aug 2002 13:11:09 -0700

ASUE Tekwrytr wrote:

The concept is exceptionally misleading, and widely taught in university classes in "technical writing." The fallacy is that the "user" is assumed to be witless and clueless, so a writer can dumb down basic material to sixth-grade level and call it "technical writing."

While I firmly believe that tech-writers need to know their material to do good work, I strongly disagree with this view of writing for the end-user.

First, one of the common ways that technical documentation fails is by making unconscious assumptions about the audience. It's far better to explain what seems to be obvious for you (and even for many of your readers) than to make these assumptions. This approach doesn't involve viewing the user as "witless and clueless" - just as someone new to the material, or who doesn't know as much as you on this particular subject. As I found out in grad school, while I have expertise in many areas, there are many more in which other people outshine me. As a result, I don't look down on anyone who doesn't have exactly my expertise.

Second, what you call dumbing down basic material to sixth-grade level I would simply call clear writing. When I was a university instructor, one of the first things I learned was that it was easier to teach a fourth year class, in which students had some idea of what I was talking about than to use the same concepts in a first year class. The same goes for tech-writing. The writer who can explain a subject in simple language is far more expert than one who abandones the audience to fumble along in his or her wake, desperately trying to grasp meaning.

Finally, in order to produce clear explanations, a writer has to understand the material. At times, trying to explain the material clearly can be a guide to understanding, especially if you're new to the material. However, if a writer can't explain something clearly and in simple words,then I question whether he or she really understands what they're trying to explain.I suggest that having expertise actually makes clear writing easier to produce, not harder.

Bruce Byfield bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com 604.421.7177

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Tech writer as "user": From: ASUE Tekwrytr

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