Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Back to Non Fiction Writing

by Terri Wagner

Taking the technical and breaking it down to layman's terms is what excites me in writing. While I love, read, and appreciate fiction, my forte is non fiction. Why? Not really sure. But when I lay out a technical manual and start reading it, I start editing it in my head. Now why did you start with instructions and not explain what A, B, or C is? Why would you not begin with here is what should be included in your package? The main reason is that the engineers were writing the how to. On the surface that sounds about right. The persons in charge of creating the products ought to be the ones who tell us how to say put it together. However, most engineers will be the first to say I did not do well in English classes. And if you read their first drafts, you would believe them!

The advent of trade publications continued the confusion. The author of the article was generally the creator of the process. As a result you got a lot of information you did not need, or worse, missing information. This is because if you already know 2+2=4 you are probably not going to put that step in. And sometimes a layman following your directions needs to at least be reminded that a mathematical step has just been inserted. I saw this so very much when I worked for a trade publication.

The founder of the magazine was an engineer by trade, a writer by heart. He made a difference. His technical articles made sense to anyone who picked up the magazine, in the industry or not. His fellow engineers not so much. It reminds me a bit of common core math. If you memorize the multiplication table, you know over the years that 2x2=4. Common core math makes you draw two and then two more squares and add them up. Advantage: the memorizer. Drawing small squares will eventually take over the math problem. Although when it comes to math word problems, I could use a few artistic hints. Companies that hire "real" writers take a chance. Not everyone writes things down in sequential order. I do. I leave no step out even the most obvious. Because in reality it is not always quite so obvious.

When the technical got too technical, I had the advantage of calling the author and asking him to walk me through it. That never got old.

Bottom line: it would behoove any engineer to enlist the aide of a writer to assist him in providing technical information to both those in his field or those outside the field. It makes a difference.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting Terri. And I get it! I'm married to an engineer. I often have to make him back up and fill in the gaps. lol.

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