Professional technical communicators need to be very careful when inserting themselves into G2G scenarios. Some examples:
- I had an intern once work on a specification document our engineering group had written so that customer IT folks could configure their applications to exchange data with our application. She took out the word "argument" everywhere it occurred because it sounded confrontational.
- I had a layout/graphics designer make a training manual I had written more "user friendly" by changing "120-volt (AC) solenoids" to "120-volt air conditioned solenoids."
- I was reviewing a document a software developer had written that was to be sent to other software developers in the company and found his excessive use of multi-layered indents to be distracting. I was just about to comment on it when another developer looked over my shoulder and said, "Cool, he's using FORTRAN formatting rules; that makes it so much easier for me to follow."
I was recently involved in a G2G situation, and I noticed some differences between that genre and G2J (Geek-to-Joe). A developer in my company had written some documentation about how to use an open standard reporting tool to issue reports from one of our products. The readers would be developers who worked for our customers. Some differences:
- Technical writers (uh, me) like to write in generalities; geeks like specifics. We talk about how to change parameters, they describe how to change a specific parameter.
- Geeks want to show how things work--often describing what goes on under the covers; technical writers don't feel they need to prove the procedure does what we say it does, or even explain why it does. For example, in his discussion of parameters, the developer told the reader to run a specific report, then had the reader change a specific parameter, and then run the report again to see the effect.
We got on site and the technician got the glue guns and sealing bracket all bolted on. He showed me a bolt that affected alignment of the sealing surfaces and explained: "Here's how I adjust this," and he turned it fully clockwise and ran a carton. The resultant sealing job looked awful. He then turned it fully counter-clockwise and ran a second carton. It too looked awful, but in a different way. He smiled and said, "See, now I know what effect it has, so I can now adjust it." Well he went on in this way through about three other alignment controls and in half an hour had this machine cranking out perfectly sealed cartons.
Hard to put into a training module, but a good insight into how geeks think and work.
Some things to consider when intervening in G2G:
- Geeks need to know underlying principles that will let them predict cause and effect.
- Geeks like examples.
- We know how to write instructions.
- We know our company's legal and style requirements.
- We know how to produce and distribute documentation efficiently.
But don't just roll over and play dead--for example, I took out the parts where we were telling users to run reports to see that changing the parameter really did affect the report--but in G2G, the geeky writer probably understands the geeky user better than we do. Be aware of that and try not to break what could be a perfectly clear explanation by recrafting it for the average Joe, who will never read it.