Documents fail for many reasons. One common mistake is to adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach to your audience. This works only when generic material, usually of a non-technical nature.
At a user group meeting in 2007, TechScribe researched users' experiences of the software documentation that they receive. Do they prefer online or printed documentation? Do they read the manual, or do they call the help desk? How important is background information? Which is more useful, a 'how to' user guide or a reference manual? Do people prefer explanations using visuals, descriptions, or a combination? Read the survey to find the answers (we obtained 29 responses from 64 attendees).
Come to think of it, technical writers are pretty weird individuals. And proud of it. You’d have to be, um, unusual, to actually enjoy writing. What goes into the making of someone who does technical writing all day? Rumours are that we’re intensely interested in the exact placement of a semicolon. Well, that’s true of course. But there’s more.
Knowing your document’s intended reading audience before you begin writing will always help you write more effective documentation. There are three simple questions you should always ask before you start writing.