My biggest takeaway from this class has definitely been the necessity of focusing on who I’m writing for. In programming, common practice is to document one’s code by writing comments throughout it explaining what a given block or line of code does. I’ve always adhered to this standard, but looking back at my past work has shown me that I haven’t done it very well. The comments are supposed to help the readers, and I never really seemed to think about that when writing. Remembering that I’m writing for fellow developers who may have never seen the code I’m writing before means that I need to explain everything, including vocab terms that may be unique to the project. Knowing one’s audience is a huge deal in any form of writing, but is a skill especially necessary in documenting software. It’s something that I will definitely keep in mind in my writing down the road.
This course has provided me with valuable knowledge and experience in many different areas of technical writing and communication. One topic that I found particularly useful was about organizing and drafting.
In order to communicate effectively, it is essential to organize your ideas in an intuitive way that smoothly guides the reader through your writing. Obviously content is important, but in some cases I think the most important thing may be the way that content is actually organized. Everything must be laid out with the reader in mind, with important information easily accessible to them. This is true in all forms of writing, and can be applied extensively throughout both academic and professional settings.
I think the most important thing I learned in this class is that I should be writing my work with an audience in mind. While I have had several classes focused on the user experience as someone on the website development and database management path, I’ve had very few writing classes. Those that I have taken were generally all about the content and analysis aspect of writing – I think the last time I even heard someone mention I should bother considering an audience at all was when I was writing college essays. However, this class has not only reminded me that writing deserves the same audience-focused approach as other aspects of website development, it’s also given me a framework in which to develop an understanding of who I’m writing for (often a difficult question to answer).
This is the way that this class has changed the way I approach my work. I no longer feel I am guessing about who my audience is but that, instead, I have a path to discovering my audience. The book gave a lot of really helpful advice through it’s ‘three step’ method to identifying readers. The first was to identify who the readers were – primary action takers, secondary advisors, tertiary evaluators, or gatekeepers/supervisors. However beyond just identifying the readers and their roles in relation to your documentation, the book also helped delineate that writers need to understand the needs, values, attitudes, and contexts of readers.
For example, the book’s second step is to identify the reader’s needs, values, and attitudes by determining their familiarity with the subject matter, professional experience, education/reading comprehension, skill level, and concerns. Writers are also meant to ask questions like: what information are my readers looking for? What are their pre-existing attitudes towards me, my company, and my subject matter? The last step is to identify the context in which a reader discovers your document – this has to do with the physical, economic, political, and ethical climate in which a reader experiences your writing. While step one felt intuitive, steps two and three were harder to grasp even though they were clearly critical to the way a reader interprets documentation.
Exercises like ‘Installing a Medical Waste Incinerator’ were the most helpful in demonstrating how to gain an understanding of one’s audience, and allowing me to put into practice the advice given in the book. To me, this is the most valuable thing I learned in the class that will change how I approach my work in the future.
While there are many aspects of technical writing that are important to understand, the topic that has changed my perspective on writing the most was writing exclusively for the audience. For most of my schooling, writing was meant to entertain or answer a question, and as such I never gave much thought to how the reader would use my writing; I wrote for grades only. This class taught me that technical writing focuses on allowing the reader to act most effectively by using your writing. A document, be it a report, proposal, or even infographic, needs to be created around the needs of the audience so that no part of the document is superfluous. After learning this, and practicing the technique in many of the semester’s assignments, I have changed my overall writing style to be centered on the reader. The technical documents we discussed apply directly to my field of study and, ultimately, my career path. An audience-centered writing style is required for nearly all of these document types, so having an understanding of this writing style will be of great benefit to my schoolwork and future career.
One of the biggest topics I have taken away from this course is understanding how a document should be balanced. I have tried to create documents that look great, but end up good because of staying inside the style guides I have learned. After taking this course I understand it is ok the bend the style guides and make a document great. For example extending the margins to put all the information on one line, instead of carrying two words onto the next line, which creates a cleaner overall image for the reader. Or how to offset images with text so a visual can quickly be seen of the information. We learned that a document’s balance is one of the core fundamentals helping writers reach the audience.