RE: Rhetoric And Technical Writing?

Subject: RE: Rhetoric And Technical Writing?
From: "Phillip Gochenour" <pgochenour -at- loansoft -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 22 Mar 2006 09:26:22 -0800

Edwin Saku wrote:

>A technical document is supposed to be effective, efficient. Engaging
is >not a requirement, but *may* be nice to have. The problem with that
>however, is that you'd run into the same problems as you would with
humor >in technical writing. What engages one reader completely
disengages >another.

I had a striking illustration of this with a document I just recently
revised for my new employer. It's a long (over 300 topics in the current
version, over 750 pages in the former) system administrator's and
implementation guide for a complex home mortgage lending automation
system. The original version was written between 1998 and 2001 by
someone with a lot of background in the application, but not much as a
technical writer. They adopted a very informal, almost chatty voice that
was clearly designed to make reading this stuff more engaging, but it
had the opposite effect; you had to sift through the narrative to find
the actual instructional text you wanted, to the degree that all that
narrative was in fact just skimmed to find the bullet points. The more
you had to do this (and I had to do a lot of it), the more infuriating
the informal, "engaging" tone became, especially when the writer's own
frustration with the complexity (and repitition) of certain procedures
became evident and they tried to use humor to both express and defuse
that frustration.

There is certainly a need for rhetorical consideration in the creation
of technical documents, but I tend to lean more toward the rhetoric of
"persuasiveness" rather than "engagement." I think what makes something
like a SysAdmin manual engaging is the confidence that when you turn to
it for answers, you will be able to find them clearly delineated. If you
are able to convince the user that they will find what they need in your
manual or help system, then they will be more inclined to actually use
it. I think this is the best form of engagement between a technical
writer and a reader.



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