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New Technical Writer: Have No Fear Of Writing

OVERVIEW You're a non-writer who has just been assigned to write the User Documentation for your company's new product. Your overwhelming emotion is fear, perhaps with some anger. With any new activity there will be some anxiety. Writing may have added anxiety because of your writing experience while you were a student. Writing User Documentation is not like the writing that you had to do in school. Those activities were filled with anxiety and "writer's block.

" In this article you will see how to overcome your writing anxieties so you can write a good User Document. WHAT YOU'RE NOT WRITING All writing and writing situations are not the same. Let's differentiate writing a User Document from other types of writing and writing situations. YOU'RE NOT WRITING A NOVEL You don't have to worry about a plot, characters, and techniques to make the writing flow. You do not have to worry about transitions from one section to another; you don't have to worry about continuity.

It is extremely rare for your Reader to read a User Document from start to finish; Readers usually only look up the information that they need at the time. YOU'RE NOT ARGUING A POINT You don't have to determine a point to argue, think up arguments to support that point, and then convincingly present the arguments. YOU'RE NOT WRITING A LABORATORY REPORT While lab reports provided a structure for writing, it was usually over-restrictive and those doing the grading were very picky regarding that format and structure. YOUR SCHOOL-WRITING EXPERIENCES At the end of your school writing exercise there was a critic (your teacher). Your goal was to impress him/her with your writing, all the time being extremely careful to write grammatically, and follow the prescribed structure. Later we will get a "critic" (editor) to be on your side in the writing project. Writing a User Document is Different. The team is on your side. (I am ignoring office politics.) Everyone wants to have a successful product, and good User Documentation is part of a good product.

Remember that other members of the team are human, also. They have their tasks to complete, and would probably prefer not to have to answer your questions. Be prepared (read background info, etc) before you ask questions. STRUCTURE MAKES WRITING EASIER The overall structure of the User Document will follow the interaction between the User and the product. Within that structure you will write components.pieces of the User Document, each dealing with a specific topic. Each component will have a defined structure: overview/background, the actual material, and additional information. One benefit of working this way is that you will not be concerned with "writer's block." The primary cause of writer's block is having making decisions ("what should I say here?"). An effective writing structure eliminates most decisions, and reduces your writing task to almost "fill in the blanks.

" In fact, some experienced writers find it difficult to write in a modular environment. They are concerned with writing elegant transitions from one section to another. You do not need to do this.you can write each component totally independently of the others. Your task is to clearly provide the information that your reader needs, and make that information easily accessible to him/her. You must cultivate an attitude of compassion for your Readers. YOU NEED RESOURCES FOR SUCCESS Whoever assigned you the writing project (your "patron") is responsible for your success. Your patron should provide resources to assist you. One of the most important resources is an editor. EDITOR Your editor (if hired early in the project) can help you over many writing difficulties.

For example, your editor can help you with wording problems as you write. Consult with your editor as you are creating the User Document.not just at the end. Your editor is not your critic! Your editor will reduce your worries about grammar and wording. Your editor is on your side; he/she is not an adversary or someone you have to impress (like your school teachers). Your editor can help you produce a good User Document. ACCESS TO INFORMATION Your patron should enable you to have access to the product developers, information about the product (a mockup of the product, marketing information, assumptions about the Users of the product), and the industry. TIME AND PHYSICAL RESOURCES You need time to do a good job, and the physical resources to get it done. If you are in a hurry, and if you do not know any of the current fancy authoring tools and content management systems, do not bother with learning them.


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