Technical Writing - He Who Matters Most

He wakes up in the morning and starts a pot of coffee. He then steps outside to grab the newspaper. He scans the headlines briefly, grabs his coffee and gets ready for work. Between showers and shaves he gets his kids ready. All the time with one eye on the clock. He can't be late to work. His shift starts at 9 am sharp.

Traffic's a snarl. Everyone's in a hurry. Somehow he manages to get to work at 8:55 am. He runs to the morning meeting and makes it at 8:59. He grabs a chair and opens a 500 page manual of the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner airplane. Wiping sweat of his forehead, he breathes a sigh of relief. He turns to page 167.

Today, his team will change the engine oil of the airplane. He starts reading the procedure. A procedure written by you. The moment of truth for a technical writer is when your target audience starts reading your procedure. If the procedure is easy to follow, then you've passed. If the procedure confuses the target audience, then you've failed.

So the most important person for you when writing your procedures is your target audience. Your target audience is the average Joe with average intelligence. Even if you're writing something for engineers and programmers, keep things simple. We all have a lot of things going on in our lives. A poorly written, difficult procedure is the last thing that anyone needs. As technical writers, it's easy to forget about our target audience when we're sitting in our comfortable office cubes. You write a procedure that you think is easy to follow.

But it's a different world out there. A world where your procedure could be the difference between success and failure. In today's example, I described a technician who works on a 787 Boeing airplane. But let's say you're an oil and gas technical writer, and you write a procedure on how to change a drill bit on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. There's a hurricane approaching and the drill bit has to be changed quickly. There's a lot of pressure and tension. A simple, well written procedure will make things go smoothly. Before writing any procedure, it's a good idea to create a profile of your target audience. Ask people questions.

The more information you can get, the better your procedure will be. The easiest way to get this information is to talk directly to your target audience. By doing this you'll also get a feel of the environment in which your procedure will be used. So remember this golden rule of technical writing: the person who matters most is not your boss or the Subject Matter Expert. It's your end user. Keep this in mind when you write anything as a technical writer.