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. _________________________________________________________________ Climb to the top of the charts!? Play Star Shuffle:? the word scramble challenge with star power. http://club.live.com/star_shuffle.aspx?icid=starshuffle_wlmailtextlink_oct