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User Assistance and Technical Writing

8th March 2012 Posted in Blog, Technical Writers, User Assistance 0 Comments

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Technical writing is a form of user assistance, a way in which information is given to users in order to assist them during a project.  While this phrase is most often used in defining software instruction, that doesn’t mean that assisting a user isn’t important in other forms of writing, e.g. medical writing and forms of techncial writing that go beyond software documentation.

Wikipedia defines ‘user assistance’ as:

“A general term for guided assistance to a user of a software product. The phrase incorporates all forms of help available to a user. Assistance can also automatically perform procedures or step users through the procedure, depending on the question that the user asked. The term is broader than online help, and includes procedural and tutorial information.”

The Role of Documentation in User Assistance

A technical document should include the help that a reader needs to complete a task or learn a concept.  This might include everything from instructions to descriptions, to screenshots and other visual tools.

What you’re doing with this information is assisting users in getting answers to questions they might have as they proceed in a process, while also allowing them to complete a task with minimal supervision.  A technical document allows the user the opportunity to see what the standard process for a job responsibility might look like, while also creating a record of past procedures.

When considering if you are assisting a user, think about:

  • Am I answering the user’s questions?
  • Have I provided all related and relevant material?
  • Are the instructions/descriptions clear?
  • What does the user need to know?
  • At what level is the user in terms of knowledge or experience?

Technical writing is a process of moving potentially abstract ideas into the concrete application.  Does your technical writing assist the reader?

What are your thoughts the role technical writing plays in the field of user assistance?

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