Are you a sports fan? And a technical writer ;) Did you ever think if there’s something that could combine those two? Comparing sports to technical communication may seem far-fetched. However, there are some elements that sports and technical communication share. There are at least four basic similarities:
- Goals and objectives,
- Rules. All sports games have rules. If you want to know more details, you can read a rulebook. Rulebooks provide guidance on how to participate, what to do, and what not to do.
The same is with technical communication — it also has rules: use complete sentences, avoid jargon when appropriate, use simple language, etc.
You learn the rules of technical communication in many ways similar to how you learn the rules of a sport. You learn by being taught by someone else: being mentored at work, taking classes, or reading instructional articles and books. You also learn by watching others: working closely with a co-worker, reading others’ writing, or viewing their diagrams or artwork. Technical communication has rulebooks: the Chicago Manual of Style, for example, or your company style guide.
Sports have different rules for every type of game, and likewise, technical communication has different rules for every type of deliverable. Just as you would not try to apply the rules of tennis to the game of golf, you probably would not adhere to the exact same rules when you create a user manual for a complex software application as you would when you create a quick reference guide for use by a mechanic.
2. Goals and objectives. With a new sport, the first question you might ask is, “What’s the objective of the game?” The objective of soccer and basketball is to get the ball in the net. If you do not understand the objective of the game, you likely will not play correctly and will not produce very good results. Without understanding the goal, you may never win.
Technical communication also has goals and objectives that must be clearly understood to “win” or create a successful information product. When you approach a new project, you may also ask, “What’s the objective of this deliverable?” Overall, the objective of technical communication is to help users to complete a task. Every process we use to create a deliverable revolves around the objective:
- We conduct audience analyses in order to better understand the user.
- We collect information about a product so that our deliverables explain the product thoroughly and accurately.
- We toil over the deliverable’s organization and outline so that it is clear and understandable. We may be in different roles as the information provider, and our users may have different goals, but our deliverables’ objective is to help users complete a task, no matter what task that is.
3. Players. Like all sports have players, the number varies based on the sport played; similarly, in technical communication project team sizes can vary. Furthermore, sports teams assign a captain, the team leader, and are responsible for making decisions on the team’s behalf, such as calling heads or tails during the coin toss, mentoring younger team members, serving as team motivators, calling plays, etc. and more. In technical communication, we see similar “team captains” emerge, whether it is a project manager on a consulting project, a technical communication manager on a technical communication team, or a technical lead who steps up to lead.
4. Equipment. To play most sports, you need the proper equipment — or the equipment that supports your end goal. For baseball, you need a field, bases, ball, gloves, and bat. For technical communication, you need a medium by which to deliver what you create. That medium can be as sophisticated as state-of-the-art hardware or expensive XML creation software for creating an online help system or as simple as pens and markers for creating an informative poster. Equipment in my office includes a huge whiteboard and pens for brainstorming. It can also include ways in which you conduct research, such as search engines or internal and external websites that provide background information for you to use. The printing presses that print your deliverables or the software that creates your PDFs are considered your technical communication “playing equipment.”
The sport is a great opportunity to be part of something you enjoy and make a living from it.
Technical communication and sport have more in common than the fact that they have had a long, evolving life. By examining each’s goals and objectives, rules, equipment, and players, we can better understand our own roles, responsibilities, and working environment.
All sports share elements that make them fun, competitive and challenging, from tennis to football. Likewise, all types of technical communication — writing, editing, UI design, or information architecture — are like sports in that they possess an organizational structure that provides clear objectives and guidelines and validifies our profession.
Have a nice day!
Bradley Nice, Content Manager at ClickHelp.com — best online documentation tool for SaaS vendors