RE: What Does One Do With A Tech Writing Intern

Subject: RE: What Does One Do With A Tech Writing Intern
From: "Jones, Donna" <DJones -at- zebra -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 21 Jun 2004 11:19:21 -0500

-----Dana Worley wrote:-----
Many people would argue that index creation is a highly specialized
skill, which should not be left to an intern.

I would argue that indexing is definitely a skill. Whether or not that skill
is highly specialized depends on the depth of the information included in
the manual. High-level or less complex documents should be easier to index
than those that are more in-depth or more specialized (consider the likely
differences between the index in a user guide for a printer versus the index
for a medical reference text book).

Because indexing is a skill, a bright intern who's willing to learn (not
someone who's just there killing time for the summer) could certainly be
taught to do a decent job at it. Sometimes it's easier to index something
that you're not overly familiar with because you have a new eye for the
content--"If I were going to look this up, what would I look under?"

In a nutshell (and at the risk of over-simplifying the process), here's my
secret to creating a usable index, which would probably work for an intern
as well as anyone else.

Ask yourself the following questions at each topic/heading:
1. What are the obvious terms that I would look under to get to this spot?
Usually one or two terms jump out. Include those terms.
2. Can any of those terms be slightly reworded or an alternate term used?
Include any of those terms that a user might logically look under.
3. Can the user be looking for this information from an entirely different
point of view? Include those terms.

For example, in my user guides on printers, for a section called "Media
Sensor Adjustment," I might include entries under the following:
- media sensor adjustment (#1. obvious term)
- sensors:media sensor adjustment (#1. obvious term)
- adjustments:media sensors (#2. slightly reworded)
- calibration:media sensors (#2. alternate term)
- troubleshooting:non-continuous labels treated as continuous (#3. different
point of view)

All of these might seem like overkill for one section, but I would disagree.
If you include the obvious terms and maybe a few that are less so, your
users don't have to try to guess what to look under to find the information
they need.


Donna L. Jones
Technical Writer II
Zebra Technologies Corp.
Vernon Hills, Illinois
djones -at- zebra -dot- com

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