Technical writing, specifically end-user documentation of software 
applications, is perceived by the majority of producers as "less than useful" 
and, in general, a waste of money, time, and effort. Similarly, the TW's view 
that they are "adding value" to a product may be just as impoverished. 

Documentation is not used by the end-user because it is awkward, poorly 
organized, and in many cases, indecipherable for a user seeking 
task-accomplishment assistance. Linux is a primary example; despite some of the 
most dedicated, motivated developers on the planet, and droves of TWs spending 
endless amounts of time creating "tutorials," introductions," and 
"documentation," (along with a massive PR pitch by IBM a few years back), Linux 
languishes. Users avoid it because it is "too difficult to learn." 

The underlying cause begs exploration, and is at the heart of technical 
documentation; does the TW really want the witless user to understand what the 
TW finds conceptually difficult? Or is there the same tendency in TW that is 
found in academia--"I took years to learn this, and you expect me to tell you 
how to do it in half-an-hour?" 

I am not suggesting for a minute that the process is planned, or even that the 
TW is aware of it. I am suggesting that the underlying premise of technical 
documentation is not "documentation" (as in "creating a record of"), but 
knowledge transfer. It is in the area of knowledge transfer that TW comes up 
short. Of all the software documentation available on October 18, 2007, how 
many pieces are considered easy-to-use by users? 

What I suggest is not a simplistic condemnation of TW, or TWs. What I suggest 
is that the underlying premises of TW may be impoverished, and suffer the same 
weakness as academic "instruction." That is, replaying the one-to-many lecture 
style of Aristotle on the computer screen, in the mistaken belief that a user 
really cares whether every i is dotted and every t crossed, or that a 
consistent style is used for all code samples, and a consistent voice is used 
for all explanations.

Finally, the reason that user interfaces in software applications require 
extensive documentation is a failure in the design and programming stage, not 
in the documentation stage. If the interface were competently designed, it 
should be "intuitive" to use, and require only minimalist documentation. If 
there is a future for TW, it lies in the area of facilitating knowledge 
transfer, rather than an obsession with style, form, and consistency.

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