Lots to digest here: Technical Writer <tekwrytr at hotmail.com> wrote: 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. This is observable. Similarly, the TW's view that they are "adding value" to a product may be just as impoverished. I certainly hope not. If it is, TW's are forgetting some key ingredients of good writing: relevance, usability, and accessibility. (By accessibility in this instance I don't mean as relating to accomodating certain challenges the user may have; I mean the ability of the user to actually FIND the information they seek, assuming that the information is there. 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. People who aren't avid readers in general don't turn to books for answers, but an increasing number of users do try to find answers online, either via the F1 key or an internet access point. The whole reason I got into TW in the first place is that I was extremely frustrated as a user of the books for the programs necessary for my job at the time. I was marking up the books with "no, it really works like x" and catching typos and grammar errors. Now that I've spent over a decade in TW, I can honestly say that a lot of the reason for the user's frustration is probably rooted in the excruciatingly short timelines required of most TWs, as well as the all-too-common presumption by the TW and/or their management that an review by a qualified editor is a "luxury." There are many contributing factors. 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? Document usability and readability enable or incumber knowledge transfer at least as much as relevance and organization of the content do. However, of the scores of TWs that I've worked with over the years, several with at least 25 years in the field, many are completely unfamiliar with basic concepts of how to make clear, concise information that is easy to find and easy to read and actually relevant to the user. It's been my experience that only about 1/4 of the TWs I've met "get" those concepts. Most of them are really good at understanding their subject matter and getting the point across to the reader, but many get too many tangiential factors involved or fail to understand how the user approaches the product and, therefore, fail to organize the information in a way that the user needs it presented, much less index it with terms the user would seek. There are a few companies that are customer-focused enough to get the TW's efforts into some doc usability scenarios, but these companies seem more the exception than the rule...at least in telecom. 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. In telecom, even the most intuitive user interfaces require documentation to explain the system ramifications and configuration options available with various combinations of settings. Some of it could be converted to field-level on screen "what's this" roll-over text, but a lot of it requires interrelational understanding as applied to various scenarios and goals. No screen, regardless of how intuitively it is designed, can convey that information...to the best of my understanding or estimation. 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. Yes, the future of TW does rest *partly* in facilitating knowledge transfer. It also includes knowledge management and creating and maintaining a bridge between what the customer does with the products and what the company provides as products for the customer.
My 2? Rene Stephenson