Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Set of Instructions, Dashed Off Quickly

I'm not posting this for my artistic abilities or anything like that. It isn't even remotely brilliant. But it does serve as an example of technical writing.

In order to demonstrate to someone who borrowed our cordless drill how to make it work, I took a piece of notepad paper and drew the diagram above. In many cases, it's OK to assume that people will "figure it out on their own." But when you are learning about technical writing, you should take the time to create things that save people time and aggravation.

This diagram tackles the one thing about the drill that isn't as easy or instinctive as it probably should be. It's important to be able to change out the drill bit and remove the assembly part that holds the thing that you can use as a screwdriver. Now, I don't know the exact terminology of all of that stuff, but I could look it up. Instead, I could just show a person how to change out the pieces and not get bogged down in details.

This diagram, for example, shows the exploded view but doesn't tackle the real world necessity of making quick changes to the drill configuration.

Exploded views are nice, but, really. What value are they? Isn't this more than you need to know? Because, what you really need is to be able to make the thing work the way that you want it to. And when operating the drill, being able to change it from making holes to putting things together is a critical function.

So, I drew out what I thought was the one critical function. I didn't do anything spectacular; I went for quick and functional, adding the details and descriptions that I thought would work best. I could have used less text, and maybe drawn a three dimensional arrow, but I didn't have the time or the inclination to really go all out.

All I did was communicate through text and pictures. What I wanted to do was make it easier to perform one critical function on the drill. All I needed was a quick diagram. And no, the user didn't have a problem with the drill. Was that because of my diagram or did they already know how to use the drill? I have no idea. But I did what I did to save them the time and trouble, and I think that's what technical writing is about.

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