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Technical Writing 101 Part 2

 


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In Part 1 I shared some of my thoughts on defining your audience, creating an outline, defining your purpose and the stages of writing. Now I would like to take a moment and expand on the area of defining your audience. For example, what you need to find out about them and why.

The first step is to find out their level of knowledge about the subject matter. Are they…

    • Expert level? – at an advanced level on the subject matter
    • Semi-expert level? – at an intermediate level on the subject matter
    • Non-expert level? – have no prior knowledge of the subject matter

The second step is to find out their role in the organization. Are they…

  • Superiors? – the highest of authoritative figures within the organization, such as the President or Vice President or Director. Those who make decisions that affect the whole organization.
  • Subordinates? – readers at a level within the organization lower than the technical writer. All they care about is how the document affects their job.
  • Peers? – readers on the same level as the technical writer, but not necessarily the same department or field.

    And the third step is to find out why they will be reading your technical document in the first place. Is it because…

  • they have to? or have been ordered to by their manager?
  • they are truly interested in the topic?
  • they will only be using it as a reference while completing their daily job tasks? You may be wondering why these steps are even important to a technical writer. Well, the reason is because if you write or design your document in the wrong context, color or layout it could make or break the ENTIRE project. For example, you do not want to write a document to superiors with no knowledge of the subject matter in highly technical terms, nor do you want to write in a condescending manner either. There has to be a professional balance between the two that will engage the learner and help them assimilate the information efficiently and use the technical document effectively. Let’s look at another example.

    You are writing for a team of your peers who have an intermediate to advanced knowledge level. What do you think would be the response of the readers if you created a document that explained even the lowest technical term such as what is a ‘mouse’ or how to “click”? They would probably be bored and offended at the same time, don’t you think? So again, the key is to define your audience by asking as many questions as possible. If you end up with too many levels and organizational roles within your audience, you may need to create 3 separate documents, such as a Beginners Guide, Intermediate User Guide and Advanced User Guide. In Part 3 I want to focus on how to gather resources and from where, and what are graphical aids or cues within technical documentation and how to create them. Until next time…

    Cheryl McNeil, the owner of Graphik Connexions, started her business back in 1996, as one of the first women in NJ in the field of “Technological” Instructional Design. With a Masters degree in Project Management and more than 10 years of training and instructional design under her belt, she is skilled at course curriculum writing, Soft Skills and Technical training, ELearning design and development, PowerPoint presentations, and technical writing.

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