User testing. Writer or communicator?

Subject: User testing. Writer or communicator?
From: ian <ian -at- HACKTIC -dot- NL>
Date: Sat, 10 Jul 1993 16:57:35 +0200

Life's hard. Almost as soon as I discover TECHWR-L I have to sign off for a
while as I'm moving from Holland to Australia. So this message is a hello
and goodbye.

As a freelance technical writer/communicator (see below) who works
independently and hasn't had a great deal of contact with his peers (for
me, this list appeared like a life raft), the thread on useability testing
has been extremely interesting. I'm becoming convinced that full useability
tests are the *only* way to ensure that our writing works. At the moment
testing mainly seems to be practised by a few enlightened American companies.
However, I'm sure that its use is increasing and that, as it becomes more
widely applied, a body of knowledge will emerge about what *actually* works
best for readers. The overriding advantage of this knowledge would be that
it is practical and proven. It's really is in all of our interests that
this knowledge enters the public domain as fast as possible. Not only do
we need it to improve our abilities, we also need evidence of success to
help in our struggle for resources and recognition.

In addition to knowing what works, we also need all the evidence we can get
on the benefits of successful writing in companies, such as improved
customer satisfaction, reduced support costs, enhanced internal
communications, better-informed sales and marketing staff, and so on.
Obviously, it's nice when evidence is quantitative, but reactions from those
involved, even if it's just quotes, questionnaires, polls, comparative
studies, etc., are equally useful. Again, the more success stories in the
public domain the better for all of us.

Are you a technical writer, technical communicator, or just hopelessly
confused? Here's where you find out.
Take the written communications bandwidth for a software company, say from
writing at comms/RDBMS/program/OS level through specifications to user
documentation to training to on-line help to demo software to
tenders/proposals to press releases to technical presentations, brochures
and articles to newsletters to business presentations and brochures to
corporate videos and ever upwards. Don't we see perhaps a trade-off
between technical knowledge and creative writing ability? IMHO, some
technical writers exist exclusively at one end of the list while some
technical communicators exist exclusively at the other; the rest
of us muddle along somewhere in the middle, not sure whether we're
writicators or communiwriters.

I'll be signing off this list on July 15. May it go from strength to
strength and good luck to all its members.

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