An old hill farming crofter trudges several miles through freezing snow to his local and very remote chapel for Sunday service. No-one else is there, aside from the clergyman.
“I’m not sure it’s worth proceeding with the service – might we do better to go back to our warm homes and a hot drink?..” asks the clergyman, inviting a mutually helpful reaction from his audience of one.
“Well, I’m just a simple farmer,” says the old crofter, “But when I go to feed my herd, and if only one beast turns up, I sure don’t leave it hungry.”
So the clergyman, feeling somewhat ashamed, delivers his service – all the bells and whistles, hymns and readings, lasting a good couple of hours – finishing proudly with the fresh observation that no matter how small the need, our duty remains. And he thanks the old farmer for the lesson he has learned.
“Was that okay?” asks the clergyman, as the two set off home.
“Well I’m just a simple farmer,” says the old crofter, “But when I go to feed my herd, and if only one beast turns up, I sure don’t force it to eat what I brought for the whole herd…”
Just as it was important for the clergyman to deliver a service appropriate to the old crofter, it is equally important for us as technical writers to be able to write a manual or an online-help keeping in mind the target audience. So, if we are writing for the network administrators the assumptions are different. If we are writing for the lay person who perhaps is technologically challenged, the writing should be different. If we are writing for people in a specific role within an organization, the assumptions and content should be different and pertinent to only what they need and not what the entire application may offer.
Thus, it is very important before you start a project to first ascertain the target audience. Who are you writing for? Who is the reader of this help or document? What does s/he wish to achieve by reading this document? What are the problems you wish to solve for him/her? Would all that you have written in this manual be relevant to him/her? Can you remove the irrelevant pieces of information? Answers to all these questions will allow you to outline your document better and create a superior, a more pertinent and appropriate help.