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© 2010 Ugur Akinci
I forgot the number of times I’ve read technical writing defined as explaining “complex things” in a language “simple enough” for the “laymen” so that “anybody” can understand what you’re talking about…
Is this true? Yes and No.
Why? Because it all depends on the intended audience of the document.
If your audience is a group of laypeople who don’t have any science or technology background then, yes, you DEFINITELY need to write with simple enough a vocabulary and in simple enough a manner to make things obvious (or at least “comprehensible”) at the first read.
But if you’re audience is a group of engineers and seasoned developers, you’d be running the risk of insulting them and turning them off while trying to explain things in a “simple enough” manner.
Here is an example…
Let’s say you’re writing an Installation Manual for a Server-Client system.
If you’re writing for a group of middle-school social science teachers, then you should definitely start by explaining the terms “server” and “client” and the very broad outlines of a typical server-client “architecture” or “system” in a very simple manner. If you don’t do that there is a good chance most of your readers won’t know what you’re talking about.
But if you’re writing this manual for a group of network field technicians, then don’t bother to define a “server” or a “client machine” because they’d think you’re insulting them. If you go for the “simple manner” style you’d lose that specific audience faster than you can say “sorry.”
Technical writing is explaining technical systems to an audience at their level, not below or above it.