Re: Tracking off

Subject: Re: Tracking off
From: "Michele Marques" <mmarques -at- cms400 -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Wed, 15 Dec 1999 10:05:30 -0500

Andrew Plato wrote that too much time is spent on audience
analysis and that you can't write appropriately to one or more
audiences if you aren't an SME yourself.

While I do agree that too much time can be spent on audience
analysis, some thought about the likely audience is useful when
planning the document structure. (And, no, Andrew, I do not mean
spending a week on planning and a day on writing!) If you know a
little about the subject matter (as opposed to absolutely nothing),
you can actually plan a structure without knowing all the details.
This can then help you get the appropriate details from the SMEs
(perhaps details they didn't realize you might want).

For example, I recently wrote an installation/upgrade guide for a
product that is fairly complex to install. I started with no knowledge
of this process, so I spent my first iteration putting the instructions
I was given in order. Yes, no audience analysis yet.

Then I thought about the intended audience. While the audience
should all be qualified system administrators familiar with both the
O/S and our product, I knew that in reality some people really were
not familiar with the O/S or our product, while others were experts
in both.

I looked over the first draft of instructions and saw a few steps that
looked like the ideal structure for this situation: bold numbered step
described in general, followed by an explanation of what would
occur/should be done, followed by the exact commands and keys
to press to complete the step. Experts could just read the bold
numbered steps and know what to do, novices had everything
explained, and people in the middle of the continuum would read as
much as they needed of each step.

Note that at this point I did not know all of the information that
would be filled in. In some of my instructions I was provided with
the information for the bold numbered step, in a few I was provided
with the explanation, and in other instructions I was provided with
the exact commands (but not necessarily the other information).

I could then go back to the SME and ask for the information that I
required to fill in elements missing from my established structure.

How much time was spent on audience analysis and planning the
structure? Maybe 3 hours. I don't think that's too much time
"wasted" on a guide that took a week or so to write.

Michele Marques
Technical Writer, CMS Manufacturing Systems
mmarques -at- cms400 -dot- com
905-477-4499 x280

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