Making the reader work hard and not enjoy it

Subject: Making the reader work hard and not enjoy it
From: Eric Ray <ejray -at- IONET -dot- NET>
Date: Thu, 27 Jun 1996 10:05:37 PDT

>Tim Altom
>>It's too hard to interest a reader while using it, a fact that

>From: Bill Hartzer XBJH
>Welcome to the world of Technical Writing, Tim! We're _NOT_ here
>to entertain the reader. As Technical Writers, we're here to get
>the information a reader needs to them in the shortest amount of
>time while making it easy for them to understand. If our readers
>need entertainment, they should read a John Grisham novel, _NOT_ a
>User's Guide. Technical Writing is _NOT_ entertainment writing. It
>never has been and never should be. If Technical Writing was entertaining
>reading, 99 percent of Americans would know how to program their VCRs!


If more technical writing were:
more people would be able to learn how to program their VCRs.
On the other hand, if more technical writing were:
enjoyable to read
less soporific
more people would *read the documentation* and thus would learn
to program their VCRs.

I'm not advocating Dummies-style writing for everything, but
I am advocating audience-appropriate tone and style. Frankly,
VCR instructions, particularly given their well-deserved
reputation, should read like Dummies books. That would fit
the audience, setting, and need to disarm the reader's

On the other hand, the documentation I wrote for a heavy
machinery company wasn't at all Dummies-esque, but was
clear and easy to understand, using real world examples and
making the reader the actor. The engineers were shocked
because it wasn't boring to read. It was least boring for
someone who would be using that piece of machinery, but
was likely to at least be read. Accurate and usable
should not ever mean boring or hard to read.

I'm into information. I love to read and learn. There are
a lot of pieces of technical documentation that I'd read
out of curiosity. However, there are also quite a number
that I should read and don't, including the one for my
lawn mower. It's dry and boring and information-free and in
my "God don't ever let me write like this" pile.

Make the reader the actor, give readers some credit, and
don't set out to suck the life out of anything that's
technical documentation. If it can be fun, let it.


Eric J. Ray ejray -at- ionet -dot- net
TECHWR-L Listowner

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