Re: Not Wanted--Technical Writers

Subject: Re: Not Wanted--Technical Writers
From: Lydia Wong <lydiaw -at- GTE -dot- NET>
Date: Wed, 17 Dec 1997 17:56:34 -0500

I've been following this thread about the Washington Post article with
interest (and read the article with interest).

Several people have mentioned that the article didn't appropriately
emphasize that the audience for this "trimmed down" writing is sales and
marketing staff. Also, as another respondent here pointed out, the rewrites
at the end of the article did not include all the information of the
originals. For sales and marketing, that could be just as well, but for
technical people, that could be a small to huge problem.

However, the article makes another point about why this service is needed in
the first place: people are not reading. They want information handed to
them in small doses, formulated exactly to meet their needs, in words that
they will instantly understand.

So, the problem we're discussing in our company is how do you provide
detailed technical information that might include complex concepts in a
format and language that people will read? Or if people are simply not going
to read, where does "documentation" fit in? In wizards? As little paper
clips asking questions at the bottom of the screen?

The company I work for makes development tools for interface design. Many of
our products provide sophisticated features, and come in multiple versions
for different development environments. Our challenge as writers has been to
document clearly and accurately all the tasks users can perform, and how all
the product features work together to let them perform those tasks. Advanced
users need that information, and even new users must understand some
concepts before they can use some of the features.

I guess the age-old question is, how do you make the horses drink? The
company in the article trims information and makes it palatable. Is trimming
information the only way to get people to read it?

It is a challenge to us, but I think it also should be a concern that people
in an ever more complex world don't want to take the time to understand
complexity. They don't want to read; they just want to do.

I'm curious how you all out there have addressed this in your work? How have
you balanced content with user impatience?

Lydia Wong
Technical Writer
FarPoint Technologies, Inc., or

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