Re: The New Communication (was Formality going Bye, Bye)

Subject: Re: The New Communication (was Formality going Bye, Bye)
From: Steven Brown <stevenabrown -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com, techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Tue, 14 Feb 2006 15:19:29 -0800 (PST)

Hi Ned,
> Then what is a writer?

The title "writer," I believe, restricts us. I was
hired not just to write, but to determine how best to
convey information to our user population so that they
learn how to efficiently use our software. If my
employer wanted a "writer," they could find one at
half what they pay me.

Example: There's a feature in our software that is
underused. A "writer" would simply create a
step-by-step procedure that explains how to use it.
Heck, our customer service reps could do that...and do
it reasonably well. A technical communicator,
information architect, or whatever we prefer to call
ourselves these days, however, looks at the situation
with a more holistic view to determine how everyone
who supports the software can work toward
re-introducing and promoting the feature's use. And to
determine if a "document" is actually the best way to
teach our users about the feature. If I can get
everyone to work together on this project, our company
will make money. I couldn't make the same claim if all
I did was write a 20-page chapter in a manual that
none of our customers read.

> I've written for licensed and/or expert
> technical audiences who demand, in unequivocal
> terms, that I write nothing
> more than the scant telegraphic version. That is,
> shorten everything to the
> barest unambiguous expression that still gets the
> message across.

I'm not so strong a contrarian to foolishly believe
that technical documentation should always be light or
less formal. Operational manuals for the Space Shuttle
will never include sidebar items that begin, "Did you
know that the rivets used in the Mercury space capsule
were bought on eBay?" Clearly, there are times when a
"scant telegraphic" document is just what the doctor
ordered. But we should look for opportunities to give
our readers documentation that's more engaging. At the
end of the day, I'll do whatever I can to get our
customers to read what I write.

Steven Brown

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