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In documentation aimed at highly technical end-users, such as a
semiconductor data sheet or a milling machine user's guide, it's a handicap
for the client if the writer doesn't share the background of the end-users.
Basic writing tasks are greatly hampered, such as selecting what material
stays and what goes, or what to explain and what to assume the reader knows
When I was in college, I spent one summer autoclaving glassware and other
simple tasks in a biochemistry lab. I tried to learn what was going on
around me, but with one year of college chemistry under my belt, I didn't
have the basic concepts of anyone's research. They were all trying to figure
out whether a side effect of a process I didn't understand were in
incomprehensible category A or incomprehensible category B, using techniques
that took advantage of some obscure but controllable side effect of it all
as a way of getting a handle on it.
I'd have been sunk if I'd had to write up what was going on in the lab. I
didn't have the background for it. My role would have become DTP plus a stab
at editorial services. Someone else would have to do all the actual writing.
On the other hand, when someone wants me to document something within my
competence, such documenting a chip or just about anything aimed at system
administrators, I don't need much help from SME's. An initial orientation,
all of the specifications and marketing materials, answers to specific
questions, and careful reviewing are all I ask.
A lot of people think this is well worth paying for, since the load that's
removed from the engineers in this way allows quite a bit of product
development to go on.
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