Re: Technical Writing Skills

Subject: Re: Technical Writing Skills
From: "You can't get there from here; you have to go somewhere else first." <angela -at- VENUS -dot- SMARTSTAR -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 31 Jan 1995 09:57:54 -0800

Paul Davies writes:

> User documentation usually benefits from the writer _starting_
> from a position of ignorance and asking exactly the questions that the
> readers will ask. Starting with too much detailed knowledge may
> actually hinder the process.

I don't think the problem is having too much technical knowledge; the problem
is not being aware of what you know and how you got there. Some people
"forget" how much they know and thereby "forget" to tell the user because the
knowledge is taken for granted. Other people are very technical, but are still
able to place themselves in the position of the user and take the user through
the process and give them everything they need to know. This is exactly what
a teacher does, and I consider us all to be teachers of a kind. I don't think
anyone would say that math teachers shouldn't know TOO much math because
then they wouldn't be able to explain it to their students.

As far as tech writing goes, I think you must at least know enough to know what
you don't know. For example, when a developer says to me: "All they have to do
is run this executable", I have to know enough to ask: "But doesn't the DLL
have to reside in the install directory or on their path first?", or: "When I
wrote another program example last week, I had to link it with the xyz library
first - do I have to do the same thing here?" However, I don't think there is
an upper limit to the amount of technical knowledge you can have to be a good
technical communicator.

Angela Howard
angela -at- smartstar -dot- com

MHOs, not my employer's.

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