TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
Subject:Doing new things new ways From:JohnBrin <johnbrin -at- AOL -dot- COM> Date:Mon, 20 Jun 1994 08:27:01 -0400
Two weeks ago I posted a message here whose subject was: Grammar and
Rhetoric, Is That All There Is? I suggested that some of us might be
interested in discussions that go beyond grammar and rhetoric to
topics like (1) combining training and documentation, (2) online
performance support systems, and (3) understanding the users' world
Twenty of you said "yes," you would appreciate such discussions.
Many technical communicators are making excellent use of new
technology. I first wrote a technical document for pay in 1949, using
a wooden pencil and a pad of yellow paper. Now I write technical
documents using powerful computers and software. But that is using
technology to do old things new ways. I hope to promote discussion
about doing new things new ways.
(1) Consider this scenario: Engineering begins development of a new
product. About two months into the project, tech pubs gets involved.
The project continues toward conclusion, and tech pubs works overtime
to incorporate last-minute changes. About that time, training
development begins. The training developers use the same source
information as did the publications people. The pubs go out with the
initial deliveries or shortly thereafter. Training becomes available
some time after initial deliveries. I've seen such a scenario hundred
of times. Are there any problems with it?
How about duplication of effort? How about differing views of the
same things? Could there be contradictions?
(2) The Grace L. Ferguson Airline and Storm Door Co. sees a slack
period when they can afford to send five employees across the
continent for training. These five people get on an airplane, attend
training class in a distant city, and return to their jobs, but they
use the product they were trained on infrequently. Any problems here?
How about lost time on the job? How about travel and living expense?
How about volatile human memory?
(3) Marketing consults with a major customer to identify a new
function the customer needs in a software product. Marketing writes a
requirements document, engineering interprets it as a specification,
engineers develop the new function, and it is delivered to the
customers. When the major customers' employees get it, they say,
"What is this? I can't use it? It doesn't do anything I need!"
Is it possible that anyone along the development chain didn't
understand what the customer really wanted? Could technical
communicators have contributed to the development process?
In future postings, I'll express some of my opinions about these
situations. I welcome anyone else doing the same.