Users and the Drafting Process
Now that we’ve decided that use is going to be important in the way we treat our readers, now we need to dive into how to engage with users as we go through the process of drafting a text. First we’ll look at the way that research goes into the drafting process before diving into the questions that we’ll use to generate that research on use.
Research and the Drafting Process
Good technical writing doesn’t come from the nether. You don’t sit under a tree and wait for inspiration to strike you in order to create that next bit of amazing technical writing. Now, that isn’t to say that technical writing is not creative—it is incredibly creative. However, technical writing is not writing that is built off of the writer’s fancy. It is writing that is situated around information and users and use.
In the writing process, this means that often your writing will be driven by research and directed by research. When asking yourself how you should write a given section, you won’t simply be asking this question out loud and answering yourself with imaginary sequences of events. Instead, you should be basing your decisions in a good technical document based on what you know about the audience and how they plan on using your text.
In order to make use of information about the audience in our drafting process, we need to fundamentally integrate research into the way that we write. Anything less will result in an awful and inefficient process where we write what we think is needed, find out what is really needed, and then go back and try to reconcile the two before our pressing deadline is a missed deadline. In case you don’t get the hint, that is not an ideal way to write.
Now, writing can be a very idiosyncratic sort of thing and everyone has a system that they’ve developed over time to do writing. Often the system is something like, “I’ll do it tomorrow,” “I’ll do it tomorrow,” “I’ll do it tonight,” “I’ll do it in an hour,” “I’m doing it now and have to beat the midnight deadline.” This is a strategy that can sometimes work in college, but it is not conducive to ongoing professional success. Even if you do have a more evolved process of drafting, I would like to suggest a sequence of writing and research that may be useful. You don’t have to adopt it entirely, but I’d ask that you at least consider some of the benefits to the approach and think about how it might be adapted to fit your system of writing.
Section Break - Audience and Use and Research
- What is the difference between an audience and a group of users? What situations might exist where someone moves from being an audience member to a user?
- Have you ever encountered a text where you were an audience, but you recognize you were not the intended audience? How did you figure that out?
- What document can you think of that was the worst-prepared for actual use that you’ve had to make use of? Why was it so hard to use?