Note: This post was originally featured on 563media.com in 2012.
Five Questions with Our Technical Writer, Keisuke Hoashi
1. What exactly is technical writing?
Tech writing is translating highly technical jargon into words a “normal” person can understand. The most common examples are user manuals, such as those you get with software or a kitchen appliance. Ideally, tech writers also have graphic design skills, since a well-designed diagram is often the most effective way to explain a complex device.
2. What are the three most common communications mistakes you’ve seen companies make?
1 – Too many words.
Most users will only look at a manual to find the answer to one specific question (“Where is the ON switch?”). There’s no need to include a treatise on the evolution of the research done on how the location of the switch was decided by the design committee.
2 – Too much or too little graphic design.
Overdesigned materials are guilty of using too many colors, too many graphics, and too much white space. Underdesigned ones tend to look like the old printed Penguin Classics of British Literature, with tiny typefaces, no pictures, odd page sizes, and no paragraph breaks. A tech writer will work with the graphic designer to balance the two, always remembering that the user is there to find that one bit of information they need at that particular moment.
3 – Not hiring an editor.
Especially in large companies, documentation tends to bloat over even short periods of time. A single editor with an overview of the entire bookset would solve most problems of size, duplication, and organization. Unfortunately, having a dedicated editor manage their documentation is also the most skill-demanding and most expensive way to go, meaning companies often use a revolving pinwheel of contractors, each one working on a small piece, with the end result devolving into a massive pile of unedited words.
3. What do you like best about what you do?
A good bout of tech writing makes me feel smarter afterward. I like the feeling of the light bulb popping into being above my head. The “Eureka” or “Aha” or “Oohhhhhhh, nowwwww I seeeeee” moment, caused by wading into a totally incomprehensible tangle of words and discovering the single master thread that organizes it into sudden understanding.
My career as a tech writer has helped me deal with the deliberately overwritten world of legal documents. I am able to translate a mortgage into real English as easily as I can an engineering document or a government bill memo.
4. What are your three favorite words?
Garbanzo, yeeha, and ombomstiggywogglesWHEEEEEEE.
5. What question have you always wanted someone to ask you (and what’s the answer)?
“Would you do us the honor of being our commencement speaker?”
Keisuke is the resident technical writer for 563 Media. His latest project: writing and consulting on the development of brochures, charts, graphics, and website copy for the relaunch of The Walker Group, a computer services company.