Technical Writing – Technical Writers and Training

Training documentation (and even delivery) is a natural part of the technical author’s career. After all who better than the person who develops the user manual for a product, to develop the “hands on” version of that manual? What makes a training manual different to a product manual anyway?

Here are a few things to be aware of when making the switch.

Exercises

Training is different from self-directed learning in that you have to give training participants something to do. Why? Firstly because there’s nothing in the world more boring than a lecture and secondly because doing something helps you remember it.

You need to build in a variety of exercises that you wouldn’t normally place in the manual, and that means you may need to capture the requirements for those exercises too. Imagine developing a training course for a sales database program, it won’t be very good if there isn’t some data in the database for your students to use will it?

So for exercises remember to capture all the pre-requisites and who will be responsible for delivering them (don’t forget this – or it won’t get done and you’ll get the blame), as well as the “what you’ll be doing” element.

Scripts

Whenever I write a program for classroom delivery, I always write a script to go with it even if I will be the one to deliver the program. Why? To ensure that it can be reproduced in the future and if something unforeseen happens to me – the program can still go ahead. However, I don’t expect people to follow my script if they deliver the program. Why not? Mainly because I always write the way I talk, and other people don’t tend to talk like me. So I support my scripts with “key message” takeaways.

These takeaways enable someone to construct their own mental script quickly on reading through mine. I once did see a junior trainer try and follow my script to the letter though (it was painful to watch – our styles are very different naturally), so now I also give an explanation as to how to use the script.

Evaluation

Training needs to be evaluated in many ways (and often this is neglected – which is a shame because without it, who knows if training works at all?). At a bare minimum you’ll need to craft some form of feedback form, and ideally a test for the trainees to complete at the end of the course. Without these two devices you won’t have any basis at all to measure your success. There are more in depth ways of evaluating training that should be applied too, but these are to detailed to cover here.

As long as your remember these simple key differences between a user manual and a training manual, you’re already on the road to delivering great training.