Darren Barefoot, a prominent Vancouver blogger and “technologist”, recently commented on the difference between a technical writer and one that works in the marketing department. His was a response to a post by another commentator (out there in the wide world of the interweb) who stated that she would like to see more marketing elements and funding put into the making of user manuals. Instruction booklets are too dry, she said. They’re not compelling enough, she went on. Darren shot her down, and I’m on his side on this one.
I posted up a brief comment up on Darren’s blog and it reads as follows:
I agree with you Darren. The most important aspect of a manual is ease of use. No one will read an instruction book from cover to cover; they might read the introduction and the getting started sections, but more likely than not, they won’t delve into any other part of the manual until they’re stumped. At this point, two things must happen:
1) The information must be easily found. This is where a good table of contents, a comprehensive index, and a well-designed categorization/section system comes up. If I’m having trouble figuring out how to download pictures off of my camera phone, I shouldn’t have too much trouble going to a specific page in the manual for that particular task.
2) The information must be easily understandable. This is especially true for consumer products. Eschew the jargon and put it in a language that Joe Public can understand and put in practice.
Nowhere in the equation does the writing have to be necessarily compelling, engaging, or even interesting. Technical writing is, in my mind, for “functional” purposes only, whereas marketing speak should be fun, engaging, thought-provoking, and so forth.
I guess as a budding writer myself (with an interest in a wide range of styles, including copywriting, marketing, technical, news reporting, human interest, etc.), Barefoot’s post was of particular interest to me.
Whatever your view, I think that Darren’s entry is a good read. Check it out here.