Re: This too is technical communication

Subject: Re: This too is technical communication
From: Stuart Burnfield <slb -at- westnet -dot- com -dot- au>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Tue, 05 Jun 2007 11:40:41 +0800

Mike Starr said:
> I've often opined that one of my principal duties as a
> technical writer is to be a "professional clueless idiot".

I think this is a dangerous and unnecessary strategy.

If you're pretending to be a clueless idiot, it's hard to avoid
overwriting and overexplaining. You'll be tailoring the docs to make
them more usable by a handful of users, at the expense of the
overwhelming majority of users. (I'm assuming you haven't identified
clueless idiots as a significant segment of your target audience :^)

As a computer user, when I need to look up the documentation I don't
think to myself that it's because I'm a clueless idiot. I think it's
because there's some information I need that I don't have, or because I
need a refresher on something I used to know. For example:
- I did a few manuals in Word 2000 but now I need to set up a template
in Word 2007 for the first time
- I'm a very experienced user of Frame but I've never needed to produce
Help output or create equations till now
- I know I can wrap text around the outline of a graphic but I don't
remember what it's called or how to do it

I don't think any of these situations makes me a clueless idiot. If
there's the faintest patronising whiff in the writing that the author
thinks I am a clueless idiot (such as elaborate, baby-talk detail) I'd
be a pretty unhappy customer.

As Alan Cooper said, imagine the user as intelligent but very busy.



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