RE: difference between tech writing and instructional design? (lo ngish)

Subject: RE: difference between tech writing and instructional design? (lo ngish)
From: "krupp, marguerite" <krupp_marguerite -at- emc -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 30 Nov 1999 08:55:27 -0500

Linda Michaels asked: "What do you all think the difference is between
technical writing and instructional design?... The only real difference I
see so far... is that tech writers seem much more detail-oriented, whereas
instructional designers are more concerned with the "big picture."

As a tech writer with a Master's in Instructional Technology, perhaps I can
shed some light on the matter, since I've done both "mainstream" technnical
writing and instructional materials, among other things. And I also teach
tech writing.

The key is, as always, the audience and what they want to do with the
information. In tech writing, while you may write tutorial material, your
primary documents tend to be in the reference, "how to" (user guide), and
concepts categories (what, how, and why, if you like). Each of those
categories has a style of its own, but the common link is that people use
these documents to get information and then get on with the job at hand.
Learning may occur, but it's not the primary objective of the user.

In a tutorial, people are specifically trying to learn something. The
tutorial can, in fact, be very detailed, but it usually presents information
and involves the learner in some form of practice-and-feedback exercise.
Ideally, one would emerge from an instructional exercise ready to use all
the tools, including the documentation. Unfortunately, a lot of courses
don't teach how to use the docs, and students get very frustrated trying to
use the course materials as reference materials when they return to their
regular jobs. <end of small rant>

There is, of course, a lot of crossover between tech writing and
instructional design, and some people are more comfortable in one than in
the other. What you have to keep in mind is that they're two different but
related crafts (the analogy of knitting vs. crocheting comes to mind).

I wouldn't say that instructional designers are more "big picture people"
than tech writers, although some courses may make it seem so. In general, ID
people have to be concerned with pedagogical concepts and their
implementation to convey a learning experience. Because no one can be an
expert in all the technologies courseware may cover, instructional designers
may rely upon tech writers and subject matter experts (SMEs) for the course
content, which they then craft into courseware. Tech writers, OTOH, may wind
up developing their material earlier in the product cycle and becoming to
some extent SMEs themselves.


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