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© Ugur Akinci
Someone said “good technical writing is boring writing.”
Not only that is true, but that’s a beautiful thing too.
Allow me to explain.
Let’s think about what makes a piece of writing EXCITING versus BORING.
Read any creative writing book you like and I think you’ll see that the author recommends VARYING word usage, VARYING sentence length, VARYING adjectives and descriptions, the voice and even POINT OF VIEW….
VARIANCE, in short, is what makes prose exciting and ENTERTAINING.
But VARIANCE can literally be DEADLY when it comes to technical writing.
Would you rather be ENTERTAINED or DEAD? (I’m exaggerating a bit of course but I think you get the idea.)
Here is how my reasoning goes…
Imagine you are flying in a commercial airplane.
Again imagine that the MAINTENANCE of that plane has been performed just before you took off, by MECHANICS who were trained by MAINTENANCE GUIDES that included a lot of ENTERTAINING VARIATIONS such as the following:
Page 16: “The TURBO FANS must be maintained every 100,000 aeronautical miles.”
Page 52: “Use only GR567 fluid when greasing the TURBO BLADES.”
Page 110: “Follow these procedures for the second stage of ENGINE ASPIRATION UNIT maintenance…”
Page 268: “Follow these procedures to uninstall and re-install each PROPELLER FIN UNIT…”
Imagine the mechanics trained on an ENTERTAINING maintenance manual, complete with JOKES and TRIVIA, a manual in which the same object (ENGINE FANS) is referred to 4 different ways, with a lot of VARIANCE….
Would you feel flying on a plane like that?
I definitely would like to fly on a plane maintained according to a manual in which the same object is referred to in exactly the same way throughout the manual. I’d feel more comfortable with a manual that exhibits ZERO VARIANCE.
And such a manual would OF COURSE be BORING by DESIGN.
As technical writers we are not trying to entertain the world. There are plenty people who are doing that.
We are instead trying to EMPOWER people so that they will PERFORM technical PROCEDURES without any ERRORS, and do so in a TOTALLY PREDICTABLE way, in a fashion that F-15 pilots call “FLAWLESS EXECUTION.”
Without FLAWLESS technical documentation, there is no flawless execution and lives would be at stake.
So cheers for the no-variance documents! Cheers for boring manuals! And cheers for safe trips across the continents.
(What do you think on this issue? Please leave a comment below. Thanks.)