Technical writing has its mechanical aspects that need to be mastered. A good technical writer must know how to use English effectively as well as various software products to produce acceptable technical documents.
But I wish technical writing was that simple. The hardest part comes before one even sits down in front of a computer to type the first word.
The hardest part in documenting anything is organizing the information in a way that makes sense from the user’s point of view.
If, for example, you are documenting a software package, are you going to introduce installation first, configuration next, and operation the last?
Or are you perhaps going to introduce the way software is installed in different factory sites and organize the information around such geographic markers?
If you are writing a manual about dogs, are you going to introduce them according to their size, country of origin, temperament, or what?
Richard Saul Wurman, a legendary technical communicator who has written extensively about the issue, has introduced the LATCH concept, an acronym made up of the first letters of the following information organization principles:
Wurman claims that ANY INFORMATION can be categorized neatly along these 5 dimensions and he may be right about that. It’s just a useful tool to keep in mind when you are trying to decide how to make sense of your subject matter.
For example, if you’re writing a City Guide, you can of course use L (Location) easily and divide the guide into districts, neighborhoods, etc.
Once you do that, you can switch to T (Time) perhaps and talk about what is “old and historic” and what’s “brand new” in every location.
How about C (Category)? “Residential” versus “Commercial”? Or “Downtown” versus “Suburbs”?
The possibilities are infinite of course.
So the next time you need to organize information, it might save you time and energy to start with LATCH dimensions and see which ones serve your documentation goal the best.