My blueberries are ripening! Individually, they’re such little things, those nibble-sized nuggets of blue goodness prove that great things come in small packages! Several years ago, I planted about four different varieties of blueberries that ripen at different times from late spring through the middle of summer. Since then, I also learned that the berries ripen gradually, not all at once, on each bush, which makes the harvest even better: I can enjoy them in a variety of wonderful ways over several weeks, not just in a brief rush.
And my work has recently expanded to include a different aspect of looking at the hardware I’m documenting. I started with writing how-tos for field service engineers, describing how the equipment works, how to maintain it, and how to troubleshoot and fix it when something goes wrong.
My new point of view is what the technicians see during assembly and test. These people look at individual bits of the whole and need to understand how those bits fit and function together so that, when completely assembled and integrated, the whole will work properly. An engineer started the documentation, and my task is to turn it into something that clearly, concisely, and accurately tells the technicians what to do. Sounds typical, right?
In this case, I need to meet some special needs. The technicians are not native-English speakers. The assembly/test area isn’t close to where the design engineers live and work, so they can’t get quick, in-person answers to questions. I’ve never met them–and probably never will, although I can talk directly to some of the design engineers.
So what can I do to meet their needs? I’m focusing on the little things. I’m translating from engineeringese to standard English. I’m using consistent, specific terms for each bit. I’m avoiding weasel words, such as “should” that work well in the design process, but not as a specification. And I’m paying attention to the little words, such as “the” and “a,” as well as the serial commas.
It’s so easy to skip over the little things, thinking that they’re clutter, that they won’t be missed, or that “they’ll know what that means” But they provide a wealth of meaning and help ensure that the technicians will successfully assemble and test that hardware the first time, the tenth time, the hundredth time, and every other time.
Little things mean so much. Please excuse me while I pick some more blueberries!
I’m looking forward to seeing you soon at a meeting.
Marie McElravy, Editor