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Articles - Technical Writing
Written by Judith Ellison Shenouda   
2005-02-07

A Look at Technical Communication through FAQs

by Judith Ellison Shenouda

As owner of a business involved in developing technical and business publications, there are Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that come this way. I hope my answers offer you  a look at this area of writing, from one practitioner’s perspective. 

Question 1: How do you determine the value of your services?

We identify what we are selling. In our technical communication business, we are providing the capabilities of our associates. Some research, write, edit, or design business and technical communications – technical, training, and marketing publications that document processes, products, and services. They may be distributed on paper, CD, or Web. Others provide project management, editorial support, or technical support to departments involved in publications and documentation.

We also consider the less tangible aspects of what we are selling. We are selling the expertise of a business that eases communication. We have an experienced organization that operates efficiently and effectively, that attracts and retains top-notch talent, that hones in on the communication needs of our clients, and that delivers quality products.

We are selling the individual and composite capabilities of associates with fresh, focused perspectives. Clients can reinforce their workforce, as needed, with associates who care about the value of their work to clients and their organizations.

Question 2: Why do clients purchase your services?

Our clients strive to achieve their business goals. They want streamlined processes, satisfied customers, repeat business, and a competitive edge. They want to expand their product lines and their reputations. They want recognition and rewards. As communicators, it is our task - and pleasure - to develop publications that contribute to that success. Our clients value writers who:

  • Understand the subject matter and show competence

  • Move projects along toward on-time completion

  • Work well with other team members

  • Pay attention to detail

  • Demonstrate professionalism and a strong work ethic

Question 3: How can you support the new product development process?

During the initiate and plan phase, we can help to shape and write the project plan. During the design and development phase, there are documents for building a prototype, purchasing components, and integrating systems into a product. These become the starting points for documenting policies, procedures, work orders, and scope changes. Here, too, we can define and develop the deliverables required to successfully complete this phase of new product development. During the test phase, we can help prepare a written test plan.

The new product goes through a sell phase. Consumer opinion is shaped by the overall product as well as publications that we can write – launch material, press releases, advertising copy, catalog copy, and product documents. Writers continue to contribute to the new product development process during the service phase. To respond to customers’ questions, service providers require a set of documents, including a theory of operation, an installation guide, procedures for doing adjustments and replacements, customer and service training manuals, and diagnostic and troubleshooting guides. With well-written service and training publications, customers and service personnel have the product knowledge required for effective product performance.

At the close and maintain phase of a new product development project, we can compile a project history file that includes lessons learned, consumer surveys, recommendations for future projects, archived files, and more.

Question 4: What are some key points related to matters of style?

I’ve given much thought to this question. In a work-in-progress, Attending to Matters of Style: For Writers and Reviewers of Technical and Business Publications, I state:

  • The writer of publications has responsibility for giving attention to matters of style.

  • Those who review publications for accuracy and completeness of content should also recognize when matters of style are adding to or detracting from the quality and value of the publication.

  • Adherence to standards regarding matters of style enables readers to comprehend and use the contents to meet their specific objectives.

  • The real value of publications comes from their readers and users. They determine whether publications have value.

  • A commercial or customized style guide sets the standard for consistency in word choice, treatment of numbers, punctuation, capitalization, and other matters of style.

  • When it comes to matters of style, there are three magic words: consistency, consistency, and consistency.

Question 5:  How does a technical communicator get started and continue to develop?

Here’s my story. In elementary school, junior high school, and high school, I often reworked instructional material. I reorganized it, took notes, created diagrams, and made the information palatable and digestible. Sure, all of this took time, but the rewards were well worth the effort. I lessened my anxieties and frustrations and mastered the content. Little did I know that what I was doing for myself throughout my education was something I could do for others. In graduate school as a Literacy Journalism major in a School of Public Communications, I learned that clear, simple writing makes for easier reading.

As I started a teaching and writing career, I began to meet like-minded folks who introduced me to professional associations filled with people who spoke my language. What an eye-opener when I met technical and business communicators, instructional designers, information architects, and other knowledge workers. Like me, they made the explosive information age workable and orderly for themselves and for others. Finding kindred spirits continues to be a benefit of associating with colleagues.

Through membership in the Society for Technical Communication (STC), I have honed my craft and mastered the changing tools required to design, develop, and deliver publications. Through membership in the Project Management Institute (PMI), I have learned to apply project management principles to my work. Every project, including those related to publishing, must manage scope, time, cost, quality, human resources, communications, risk, procurement, and more. In a recent affiliation with an area Toastmasters Club, I’ve found a supportive environment for practicing my own speeches and learning what works well for others as I segue into the professional speakers field.

If you have answers to the above FAQs or have other questions, please send them to me. They can serve as fodder for future article in Writer Online.

Editor of Technical Communications

Judith Ellison Shenouda is principal of Shenouda Associates Inc. She earned a Master of Arts degree in Literacy Journalism from S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York, USA. She completed additional courses in curriculum design and development, group dynamics, information studies, publication management, and project management; and has New York State Certification to teach Secondary English. Prior to starting Shenouda Associates Inc. in 1986, she taught English and Language Arts courses, provided academic support and career services, and worked as a freelance writer. She is a senior member of the Society for Technical Communication, a member of the Project Management Institute, a member of Toastmasters International, and a frequent presenter at local, national, and international conferences. She would be pleased to speak to your organization on topics related to starting a business and keeping it going; creating effective technical, business, and marketing communications; and managing the projects in your professional and personal life.

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