Making the case for technical writers

Subject: Making the case for technical writers
From: "Mike Sharp, Technical Publications, N-9423, Voice: 774-0193, Fax: 773-0492" <sharpmv -at- PCCVAX -dot- DNET -dot- DUPONT -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 30 May 1995 09:14:42 EDT

The most compelling point that I know is that good technical writers not only
translate complex technical ideas into clear writing, they also represent the
interests of the user to the manufacturing enterprise. By the nature of their
jobs, it is extremely difficult for engineers to do this. As they get deeply
involved in the design of their product, they imerse themselves in a world of
things--things that act on other things that act on yet other things in order
to achieve the desired product function.

When engineers then try to write about their products, they find it disastrously
easy to write extensively in the passive voice to describe how the product
works, because that is how they designed the product--from the perspective of
this thing acting on that thing, etc., to produce the desired function. Also,
they tend to organize the document around the product structure rather than
around how the user uses the product (product functions), again because their
world of design naturally focuses on product structure.

Good technical writers approach the job by considering first how users use
the product. There might be a section of the document that is organized by
product structure, but it is laced with hooks to facilitate information
retrieval (extensively cross-referenced indexes, detailed tables of contents,
cross-references in the text, itself). The result is documentation that is
readily accessible to the user to satisfy two of a user's most important needs:

1. To learn quickly how to use the product
2. To effectively troubleshoot problems so as to continue using the

Accessible documentation such as just described should result in lower technical
support costs to the manufacturer, as well as higher referral and repeat sales,
because it makes the product much easier to use.

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