August 19, 2010 by in Technical Documentation
Sometimes people assume that technical writers and editors have in-depth knowledge of all things technical. But as the field of information technology keeps growing and changing, knowing numerous details of a specific technology often isn’t as important as finding out essential information, consolidating it, and communicating it effectively. Typically, writers and editors engage with subject matter experts, or SMEs, to learn which details should be clarified for readers and which are extraneous.
For example, I was recently engaged as a writer to develop guidance around the use of three Microsoft Windows technologies – Offline Files, Folder Redirection, and Roaming User Profiles. These technologies provide numerous benefits, but one of the most sought-after is the ability for users to log on to any computer in a Windows-based network and access data and settings that are otherwise only available from a specific computer. I had been aware of this capability for some years and understood the basics of what’s involved, but knew little about the most recent versions of these technologies and how they affect each other’s functionality. (Interestingly, despite the fact that personal computers and networks had changed significantly since I had last studied the issue, the basic challenges were primarily the same.)
I immersed myself in everything I could read about these technologies and learned a lot. However, it became apparent that some of the most meaningful information wasn’t in books and white papers; it was in the minds of people who used the technologies every day. These people were the SMEs, and they understood the technologies better than anyone.
As a result of my research, I was able to engage in detailed conversations with SMEs. I learned not only how they use and configure these technologies, but also how the latest versions interact with each other. We were able to discuss different options for presenting information effectively to the audience. One of the significant challenges turned out to be finding the best way to combine technical facts with real-world experiences to inform readers of both the pros and the cons of various configurations. The goal of the project was to help readers make informed decisions, and we created a single resource that pulled together many disparate pieces of information into one concise document. This information had never before been organized or assembled in a format that provided a succinct solution for IT pros.
At Wadeware, we have a lot of experience with technology. Some think of us as a company composed of technology junkies who know how to write, and that might not be too far off. We pride ourselves in finding ways to effectively communicate in-depth technical knowledge effectively – that’s our passion.