Re: Technical Writing Defined At Last

Subject: Re: Technical Writing Defined At Last
From: Sean Fitzpatrick <Sean -dot- Fitzpatrick -at- SMED -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 10 Dec 1997 19:39:40 -0500

I have thought for a long time that the technical writer, or technical
communicator, is a key factor in the process of commercial technology
transfer. Modern and historical studies have found that the most important
factor in technology transfer is the human individual, who carries skills and
"know how" from the donating area to the receiving area. Know how is often
unconscious, often non-verbal. It is often the Oh-I-forgot-to-tell-you thing
that the SME does. In the commercial transfer of technology, technical
documentation plays the role of the human carrier (and you wondered why it is
so hard).

Even now, in my company, development does a lot of on-site hand-holding with
customers and field support staff until the field people have developed
sufficient skill and experience. This used to be the only way.

So I would use this definition: technical communication provides that part of
the information embodied in a technological system (process or artifact) that
guides a person to the completion of his task.

Notice that the task can be simply evaluating a product, that technical
information is explicitly part of the product, and that it is explicit that a
technology contains information outside of the documentation. Ideally the
technological product reveals all of the embodied information the user needs
(what you young'uns call good interface design, sonny). Even then, some
practice is necessary. It takes practice and perhaps some coaching to learn
how to hammer a nail, but a well balanced hammer will "naturally" swing in an
efficient arc. What one must learn is to let it swing. I won't even get into
computer interfaces, except to say that the UCD movement is attempting to
realize this ideal, and it is being led by technical communicators.

Sean Fitzpatrick
Shared Medical Systems, Malvern, PA

*, or

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