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« PRSA Technology Public Relations Conference | Main | What Technical Writers Can Learn From Copywriters »


One other writing style that has become increasingly popular, is conversational. The "Dummy Books" are a good example. Many people find the expressions of thought used in these books, clear and easy to absorb. Even when the subject matter is highly technical and the jargon foreign, the reader feels like he or she is engaged in a friendly chat rather than a cold briefing of facts. The lesson here is that the writer doesn't have to dumb down the material, just present it in a way that people find enjoyable. Those who read with enjoyment, learn more, and faster to boot. Isn't this the goal? Consider this when outlining your next project.

As an after thought, I also suggest the following:

Prior to the first draft of your writing project being submitted for approval, have an actual end-user follow your detailed instructions to verify they are complete and workable. This should not be the department manager that approved your contract. Those most familiar with the hardware/software application you are describing can read too much between the lines. If an actual end user(s) has trouble understanding or getting the desired result, then your work is flawed. A good technical writer will specify that this step be included in the on-going evaluation. After the end-user has completed their training, an extensive interview with he or she should be conducted. By using good question and answer techniques, the proper edits and clarity of thought will be established. Any problems will be uncovered and corrected before publication.

Though this process requires extra effort, the results more than off-set the additional cost in time and money. This will be evidenced in a dramatic reduction of the number and type of after sale tech support calls the company receives. One just has to look at the myriad internet support boards to see how pervasive this problem is. They are a direct reflection of poor user documentation. The frustration and anger described in many user comments proves my point.

The old adage "do it right the first time," really does hold true. By following this advice, you are sure to get a good reputation as someone with outstanding skills.

Good beginning, but not nearly sufficient to set oneself apart from the crowd of other writers. I have seen too many writers get off point and lose the logic trail that leads to a successful understanding and conclusion by the reader. Many jump right into detailed technical explanations instead of building an introduction, body of material, and summary of main points. Like a good speechwriter, explain to your audience what "You're going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them." Your goal is to impart knowledge across possible skill, education, cultural and language barriers. Good writers can do this easily, with brevity, and focus. Audio/Visual and/or interactive aids certainly help, but in the abscence of good style, much is left to be desired. Copywriters have learned this. Not all technical writers have. A balance between the two differing techniques is needed. Don't lose sight of the intended audience while striving to create a beautiful layout. A clear understanding of your scope of effort is needed if you are going to write for their needs. And if a narrative style, or portion therof, would accomplish this, then be flexible and write accordingly.

One other point worth mentioning. How is your writing going to be displayed? In print? On screen? If in print, the reader can take their time to absorb your material. If on screen, this is more difficult because the eyes tire and there may be external interruptions that limit clear thinking. However, the advantage to on screen presesntations or help windows, is that user interaction can be integrated. Again, write with your audience in mind and acquire the additional skills that allow you to be effective in both environments.

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