Re: Tech writer as "user"

Subject: Re: Tech writer as "user"
From: "Paul Strasser" <paul -dot- strasser -at- windsor-tech -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 21 Aug 2002 11:38:02 -0600



>
> 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.

Bruce Byfield responded, in part:
> 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.
>
There are also times when the user knows a lot about the subject matter -
even more than the programmers. For example, when an industry or government
entity has used a paper-based inspection system and is now changing to a
software-based inspection system, the users (the inspectors) are fully aware
of what they have to do. They've been filling out the darned Form CSE-1/j2
Rev94 for eight+ years. But now they have to put the same information into
some software. It's the goal of the tech writer is to not only explain what
the Address fields mean, but (more importantly, IMO) how the software
relates to the Form they've been using.

(This sort of software development is the norm in my business. It gets fun
when we develop software that is used both by SMEs and by people who have
never been introduced to the subject matter. The best feedback I get is
from training classes.)

The assumption that User = Clueless is terribly wrong in many cases. "User
= Ignorant of how the software does what it's supposed to do" is quite
different, and this is where a tech writer's talent for empathy AND SM
knowledge comes in.

Paul Strasser
Windsor Technologies, Inc.
2569 Park Lane, Suite 200
Lafayette, Colorado 80026
Phone: 303-926-1982
FAX: 303-926-1510
E-mail: paul -dot- strasser -at- windsor-tech -dot- com


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References:
Tech writer as "user": From: ASUE Tekwrytr
Re: Tech writer as "user": From: Bruce Byfield

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