Engineer vs. end user and the eighty/twenty rule
Engineers are often the worst writers—particularly those engineers who have worked on the product you’ve been hired to document.
There’s a great rule that applies beautifully to documentation: eighty percent of the users will use twenty percent of the features.
Engineers are interested, as they should be, in all the “nuts and bolts” that make a product work. This applies to hardware and software. The problem is that engineers, when writing, want to share all the nuts and bolts with the reader.
The end user, on the other hand, just wants a simple nail: which button pushed or switch flipped will produce the desired result? He could care less about what is happening in the background. When designing documentation, this should always be kept in mind. What are the features the user will be most interested in? Do those features come up quickly in the manual?
As a tech writer, you are the bridge between the engineer and the user. To write intelligently and usefully, you will need to understand the subject matter you’re documenting far better than the user will, but that doesn’t mean you have to dump all of your hard-won knowledge into the manual.
Eighty percent of the users will appreciate it if you don’t.
If the user can’t use a datum, throw it out!