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Error and the growth of technical understanding

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1 Author(s)
Manning, A.D. ; Brigham Young Univ., Provo, UT, USA

Technical writers, for the most part, write user documentation of some kind. However, they also have skills that might enable them to also serve as user-advocates on product development teams and testers of prototype systems. In the computer hardware and software industry, they have the additional skills needed to develop online help tools, to design user interfaces, and to write system and error messages (J. Fisher, 1998). Fisher's recent survey of (Australian) technical communicators showed that some are employed in such tasks, but not widely so. She reports, for instance, that only 38% were consulted by developers about error messages, only 32% actually wrote error messages, and only 13% reported that they had some role in system testing (J. Fisher, 1998). A question emerges out of such results: is there really any necessary and supportive connection between the process of explaining a product to a user and the original process of developing that product? As technical writers looking to expand our roles [and salaries], we would like to say yes. But, in fairness, we have to admit our bias. We need to check such biases against other, independent evidence. The article interfaces this question with a parallel question in the philosophy of science: is there any connection between experimental test results used to “sell” a theory to a scientific audience and the original process of developing that theory?

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Professional Communication, IEEE Transactions on  (Volume:42 ,  Issue: 2 )