I’ll be honest. Part of me expected a class in technical writing to include assignments like writing the instructions for programming a VCR.
If you don’t know what a VCR is, then I’m not being careful to address my writing to my intended audience. Perhaps I should have written, “set up a WiFi network” instead.
Now we’re getting closer to what a technical writing course actually teaches: how to communicate clearly and thoughtfully so that your writing can explain technical topics to a variety of audiences.
I was pleasantly surprised this course included units on both accessibility and ethics. Since I work with small business owners on marketing communications, these are frequent topics, even if we don’t talk about them in those terms.
Clients sometimes come up with ideas that won’t work on all devices, or wouldn’t work with sound disabled. I find myself explaining issues like readability, responsive screen sizes, and user context frequently. The unit on accessibility has helped me be a more articulate and informed advocate for accessible design and how it can help their business—not just cost them more money.
Unfortunately, clients also want to emphasize positives and downplay negative facts about their products, policies, and services. Working with them to ethically disclose important information is a regular part of many assignments. But in this course, I learned about nuanced ways writers can make less obvious, but still unethical, choices. It’s made me a more aware consumer and a more conscious writer.
In the end, I didn’t program a VCR or write about it. Instead, I tackled another topic many would find as dry. I wrote about how doctors can manage their online reputation. To make the instructions more engaging, I used color, illustrations, whimsical diagrams, and lots of photography.