Sunday, December 27, 2009

Service, or A good topic for Christmas

In the technical writing course I wrote for Learning Tree I steadfastly avoid providing a definition for technical writing. Instead, we provide a purpose for technical writing: "technical writing helps people to do things or to make a decision". Concentrating on the 'why' helps clarify what matters in technical writing: the audience, the people you're serving.

One of my sons (Jason) brought up an example when he was home for Christmas: He's preparing a pamphlet on tracheotomy. The hospital where he works currently has a pamphlet on the topic but it's aimed at people who are going home with a tube in their throats and focuses on how the patient (or the patient's caregivers) should care for the equipment. As a nurse, Jason recognized that this pamphlet was unhelpful for his audience. Jason's audience wanted to know what having a trache meant to the patient's prognosis, what the patient can/can't do, what will happen next, what the patient will/won't be able to do then. Jason's proposed pamphlet serves that audience.

Poor technical writers serve themselves. Great technical writers serve others.

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