RE: Concepts (was Technical Writing Tests)

Subject: RE: Concepts (was Technical Writing Tests)
From: "Carey Jennifer (Cry)" <jennifer -dot- carey -at- cdi -dot- cerberus -dot- ch>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2003 19:08:09 +0100

I have to agree with Andrew's underlying point, while disagreeing with the
details. Documentation plays a very important role where I work because 80%
of our technical documentation is written for the technicians that configure
our product to work for the end user. In fact, they depend so heavily on
documentation that if we don't do a good enough job, they will write it
themselves. So, it's not just the reviewers, customers and competitors
reading our docs.

They read the procedures during training and when they first use the
product, then for occasional and complex tasks. When they have a problem,
they may check the procedures to verify they didn't miss anything, but
usually what they want is conceptual information. They want the tools
necessary to analyse the problem and identify its root. When you are dealing
with the configuration of complex geographical systems, believe me, you want

Audience really counts.

Andrew wrote:

I think that is a limited view of documentation. Its a traditional view.
are tools, readers care only about raw "how do I do X" type information. Its
based on the assumption that the reader does not care at all about the

And in some environments, I would agree. Big bureaucracies where people only
care to do the absolute minimum so they can get paid - yes. Those kind of
people however rarely read docs anyway. And when they do, they usually just
skim through and look at the pictures.

The people who actually read docs (in order) are:

1. Your boss
2. Your co-workers
3. Your competitors
4. Potential customers
5. Other tech writers looking to rip off your styles
6. Forced users
7. The curious
8. The honestly diligent reader

In other words, there are a lot of people who are reading docs for every
reason than how to do something.

Now, I think there is scales to this. And generally the less
the reader, the more simplistic the content has to be. And I would agree
at the very end of that scale - the archetypal stupid government slob who
doesn't want to lift a finger will probably not care for conceptual material

But on the other side of that spectrum - professors, highly skilled people,
competitors. They'll read ever word you wrote. And the truly intelligent
actually read beyond what you wrote and look for trends, themes, and hidden
misleading messages.

So, audience does play a part. If your audience is generally unskilled
then yeah, no need for concepts. But the more skilled your audience, the
they are going to want to see that you (as in your company) know what
talking about.

And I can speak to this directly from the network security world. Top
people aren't going to be fooled by fonts and great procedures. They demand
see docs that demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of not only security
concepts, but also networking and system administration.

Andrew Plato


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