Re: Baseline Skillset for Technical Writers?

Subject: Re: Baseline Skillset for Technical Writers?
From: "Mark Baker" <mbaker -at- omnimark -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 20 Dec 1999 13:38:52 -0500

Tony Markatos wrote:
> In, for example, creating installation & configuration instructions, the
> primary thing that a TW has to do is gain a rigorous understanding of the
> essential tasks (and their individual steps) that must be accomplished to
> install and configure the product. Here, the end-user is the installer -
> not the ultimate product end-user. This makes no difference in terms of
> job-at-hand for the TW. The same applies to any other form of
> documentation.

I wish it were that easy.

In fact, this is only true for products that have a small finite set of
tasks associated with them. If you can define the compete set of user tasks
for your product, and that set is manageably small, you're in gravy. You are
also dealing with a relatively simple product with relatively simple uses.

I document a programming language. The number of possible user tasks with a
programming language are infinite. You cannot use pure task oriented
documentation with a programming language.

In the days when I documented telephone systems, we used a task oriented
approach until the system's networking capabilities became so rich that the
number of user tasks become practically infinite.

The same is true for many products. The complete set of user tasks cannot be
usefully enumerated. You need a different approach. A combination of
examples and exposition of general principles is usually effective. Of
course, this approach requires far more technical knowledge and skill than
simple task writing.

I think it was a Dilbert cartoon that I saw in which a salesperson was
demonstrating a product and saying "Our product is so simple it only has one
button and we already pushed it for you." Simple task analysis and no
technical understanding would suffice to document that product. Not so for
many others.

Mark Baker
Senior Technical Communicator
OmniMark Technologies Corporation
1400 Blair Place
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada, K1J 9B8
Phone: 613-745-4242
Fax: 613-745-5560
Email mbaker -at- omnimark -dot- com

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