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

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