Technical Writing vs Knowledge

Subject: Technical Writing vs Knowledge
From: Kris Jaeger <krisj -at- MEI -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 12 Nov 1993 08:27:19 -0600

Brian writes --

>If you're writing theory of operation for hardware designed by your company
>and technology is just a pile of information you don't understand, then you
>need to be led step by step by your engineer through his schematic diagrams
>in order to write your theory. You're more of a time drain on him, so the
>tech writing profession suffers a lack of respect because we can't do the
>things to make the company more efficient.

Well, I can't just sit back and listen (or read) anymore. As an operator
manual writer at the same company as Brian, I guess I disagree with him on
most of the points he's raised, except a little bit of the theory of
operation comments above. There is no question that a service manual
writer must be technically literate to write highly technical documentation
for a highly technical audience. However, I do believe that the writer's
use of language and knowledge of the audience are as important (if not
more) than their technical expertise.

Engineers at our company are very busy (by the way -- engineers at our
company are both hes and shes), but it's as much their obligation as ours
to make sure those who use and service our equipment have the most
complete, readable, accurate documentation possible. Everyone involved in
producing the product (engineering, marketing, technical writing,
manufacturing, service, etc) should be considered a team (we all have
talents to bring to the product development and production process) and
work together to produce the best we possibly can for our customers. Sure,
asking the engineer stupid, obvious questions and wasting their time
doesn't do anything for the engineer's view of technical writers, but if
the equipment is so poorly designed that stupid, obvious questions need to
be asked then shouldn't engineering take the time to listen and answer your

>So, can you do whatever you want? To be honest, and maybe I'm missing the
>boat, I don't see a whole lot of art in the manuals we produce. Sure,
>there's good and bad design aspects, but to call writing a step-by step
>adjustment procedure doesn't seem like art to me.

As far as not seeing any art in the manuals we produce, I strongly
disagree. Technical manuals are an art form in and of themselves. Just
take a look at a poorly written and designed manual vs a well-written and
well-designed manual. Technical writing is one of *the* most difficult
forms of writing because it offers the writer little opportunity to deviate
from a step-by-step approach, but each writer brings their own style and
artistry to the overall design, presentation, use of graphics, and just
simply deciding what's the best way to communicate the procedure to an
audience that you know very well. I'm creative every day that I write and
the quality of my work (and the work of my co-workers) raises the
consciousness of others in the company just how competent, qualified, and
creative technical writers are!

Kris Jaeger Marquette Electronics, Inc.
krisj -at- mei -dot- com Diagnostic Technical Communication
8200 W. Tower Avenue
Milwaukee WI 53223 USA
(414) 362-2605

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