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Technical Writing Solves Problems…Or Should, Anyway

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The story of going to get a fire hydrant to put out a fire, but then having difficulties knowing how to use it because of the instructions is a terrific illustration of technical writing gone wrong. Most of us think of writing as having to be deep or profound, but technical writing is another concept altogether.

The Problem of Solving Problems

Technical writing begins with a problem, essentially. This problem could be that a person needs to learn something or that they need to relearn something after a change. In either case, the audience needs to be able to use the information to reach a certain goal or set of goals.

Where this can become challenging is when you don’t identify the audience’s education level and experience at the start. Talking down to your audience may ensure that your technical writing document is useable, but it can also make your audience feel as though you don’t completely understand them.

The technical writer needs to be able to put themselves in the shoes of the audience and understand what they know.

The Audience’s Needs

Instead of focusing only on the information you need to add to a technical writing document, you need to think about the information you do not need to add, based on the primary audience of the document. What is their education level? What do they already assume? What other documents do they also have access to?

Going back to the example of the fire hydrant, a person who doesn’t know anything about fire hydrants would need to know the most basic information possible about the contraption in order to use it.

Would a fireman need to know the same details? Probably not.

Solving problems begins with understanding the audience because once you know the audience, you aren’t going to create new problems – or start new fires.

In addition to solving problems, technical writing has to meet other requirements, too. What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment.

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